Homesong Book Club | ‘An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace’ by Tamar Adler

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“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!

 

Reflection Questions: 

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.

 

Favorite Quotes: 

  • “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…

With Care,

Amanda

 

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  • admin

    Where to start with this beautiful book? I love it so, and found each page to uplift in ways I didn’t even know I needed. I am admittedly very much a non-recipe follower, so I found the conversational flow very easy to read and work with. What I loved most was how Adler took the simplest things, like a bean or a boiled pot of water, and made them feel not only wonderful, but gracefully wholesome as well. The way she talks about food is the same way I feel about homemaking. There is beauty and magic in the mundane, and with a bit of care, simple things can take on a new perspective and can be transformed. I also loved how Adler showed us how to topple ingredients into one another like a row of Dominos. Seeing and appreciating an ingredient from start to finish, from nose to tail, is no easy task. But in the way she gently encouraged, I felt as though I could start making more of an effort here at home in my kitchen. Did you enjoy it? x AmandaReplyCancel

  • sarah

    This book sounds so down-to-earth and beautiful. I’ve not read it yet, but am adding it to my list! Sounds like Adler writes and cooks from the heart…ReplyCancel

    • admin

      Sarah, she writes in a way that makes you FEEL as though you are sitting down in her kitchen as she cooks and chats, tea in hand, nibbles on the table. It’s a delight. x AmandaReplyCancel

  • stefanie

    May I just begin by saying, Dear Amanda, that after careful thought I have determined that the reason I love to visit your blog so much is because it is a safe space for me. There are no judgements, neither by you nor (the vast majority of) those like-minded individuals who also follow along. Here, there is endless inspiration stemming from a well of graceful curiosity. I have never read a post and not been better off for it.
    An Everlasting Meal is perhaps the most important, insightful, and inspiring book that I have ever consumed. I know that Tamar’s words and advice are sound because as I read, I was incredibly pleased to find that I was already well-along my own journey to cooking as she instructs. This was, in a word, incredibly freeing for me, and I imagine for others as well (yes?), especially when I consider the way I was raised, the way my mother behaved in the kitchen.
    My mother is a brilliant, talented, gypsy lady who was always flitting about from this to that and rarely made time for kitchen things. Was she economical? 100%; possibly the most economical, with both food and resources, person I have ever known. Graceful? Not so much; she HATED cooking. The Queen of half-takeout; buying, for example, one large chicken teriyaki meal, coming home, whipping up a bunch of rice and extra chicken, and combining the two to serve us for dinner. She half-heartedly gardened, but whatever did grow in her small backyard plot was used to the fullest. Nothing was wasted or thrown out, and am I ever grateful for that example! Unfortunately, she rarely used the oven. Because she spent so little time in the kitchen, we kids were definitely not allowed to help with anything, for it would “be too messy! waste too much time! turn out wrong!”It wasn’t until I left home that I was allowed to cook on my own, and I quickly discovered that I loved to make things taste GOOD, which, I also discovered, is directly proportionate to the amount of tending one does to a meal while it is cooking.
    Many books, magazines, pinterest pins, and PBS shows have gone into my current knowledge of food, kitchen, and the mysteries of the two. But it was not until reading Tamar’s words that I now feel confident in the various methods I have borrowed from across the spectrum, my mother’s wacky shortcuts included. I would read and laugh and nod and laugh and ‘hmm’ and ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh,’ just tickled to find that I, too, had adopted many of the methods and ideas she so beautifully captured in written form. Of course much was to be learned and I so enjoyed and will continue to enjoy the many recipes detailed throughout the beautiful prose. Perhaps my most favorite quote of all, the one that frees me the most as I chew on it over and over in my head, is found on page 37. “A hot oven is the rightful domain of a capable cook.” While my mother shied away from using the oven for fear of wasting gas or electricity, I have come to embrace it, finding the heat of the oven the most efficient way of transforming flavors of various ingredients into something truly magical. And I have had to defend this find, even to myself, because it so contradicts what my beloved mama taught me. Tamar’s words have given me confidence and exceedingly abundant grace to use the resources available to me to their fullest potential, and I am forever thankful for this volume. This morning I served my family crisped (leftover) cooked cilantro-lime brown rice topped with garlicky kale from last week, topped with a olive oil poached egg, Spanish-style, which I have been practicing ever since reading it early in the book. Soon enough I will fire up the oven for this evening’s roast chicken, and along with it roast all of our sweet potatoes from the market yesterday to use throughout the week. Would I have done the chicken and potatoes this way before reading the book? Probably yes, I have been doing this a good few years now. Would I have served a rice bowl for breakfast? Probably not, it was directly inspired by Tamar’s advice and recipes. But it was delicious, and nutritious, and now I am unafraid to go ahead and gracefully serve what I have taken time to carefully prepare, and have Tamar Adler, and you, Amanda, for including this book in the line-up, to thank for all of it. Oh, how thankful I am!!! The course of my cooking, and eating, and because of mine, my family’s cooking and eating, is forever infused with the economy and grace mentioned in the title. I’m so excited to go forward armed with the knowledge contained in these 238 pages.
    And to be completely frank, I borrowed it from the library to read, and had to do everything I could to prevent my thoughts from overflowing into the margins- this is most certainly the next book I purchase!!ReplyCancel

    • Bethany

      Stefanie, what lovely sentiments and memories you shared! <3 I, too, borrowed the book from the library but realized several pages deep that I needed to own it & mark it up with notes and reminders. Thank goodness for Amazon Prime! 😉ReplyCancel

      • stefanie

        ugh, love amazon prime. its in my cart now, haha. waiting to be bought!ReplyCancel

  • Bethany

    This book was just what I needed to free my imagination in the kitchen. If I had to label myself, I would begrudgingly say that I am a recipe follower. And although I don’t mind following a recipe, I have wanted to become a more instinctual and intentional cook. When I go grocery shopping with a few “recipes” in mind, invariably after I’ve cooked them all I have a bunch of odds and ends. Historically, the “odds” and the “ends” would sit untouched and eventually go to waste and it really bothered me because I wasn’t being economical nor graceful in the kitchen. Tamar’s chapter on “How to Paint Without Brushes” really spoke to that frustration and freed my thinking on what cooking really is: tasting curiously, trusting myself, paying attention, and using all my senses. I have found that this has truly spilled over into how I prepare meals over the past few weeks. But I could really say that about every chapter; I gleaned so much practical wisdom on being intentional in the kitchen.

    Another takeaway is that cooking is forgiving. Through her examples of recipes gone awry and substituting ingredients, I have been emboldened that even through mishaps, a beautiful meal can still be presented. One recipe I did give a solid effort was the salsa verde. It was served with a seared chicken that had been brined. Unfortunately, the brine made the chicken far too salty and the garlic in the salsa verde was extremely potent. But I did not give up! We used some leftover baguette and made small sandwiches out of them and it helped tone down the saltiness of the chicken and pungency of the garlic. After the meal, I found myself wanting more and more of that salsa verde! 🙂

    I would certainly recommend this book to others. It is so practical and LOADED with golden nuggets of wisdom, truth, and instruction.ReplyCancel

  • Katie

    This book was incredible, and I’m so grateful it was apart of this book club lineup otherwise I may never have found it. Adler writes beautifully, and I love her sense of humor. She has already changed my cooking style, and I really think it will help improve both my budget and the quality of the meals I make my family.

    Just last night I made pasta, a dish I might have found boring before, but because of her advice and tips the meal was transformed. Even the plain noodles taste better cooked in the very salty water! The addition of fresh parsley and olives to my garlicy, buttery, shrimpy topping put the dish over the top.

    Since having my first son, cooking has felt like such a chore. I’m not sure what happened to the fun in it, but this book has renewed my sense of creativity and fun in cooking as well as my confidence in the kitchen.

    I’m so excited to try more of her tips and methods! Thank you for choosing this book, Amanda!ReplyCancel

  • Sarah

    Hello! Can you tell me how we sign up for notifications for the August book club? Thank you!ReplyCancel

  • Riva

    I baked sweet potato this evening and after 40 minutes it still wasn’t cooked through. I added another 20 minutes and before the timer sounded I could smell that the sweet potato was done. My mind went immediately to the part of the book where Tamar wrote about knowing when food is cooked just by the smell of it or how it sounds in the pan! That was so interesting to me.

    Like most people stated I love the tone of Tamar’s writing. It feels like being in a warm and familiar kitchen. “Glory be.” This was such a refreshing and unique book compared to what I’ve read in the recent past.

    I’m a mother of a two year old and six month old. Since I began reading this book I’m more aware of how I move around in the kitchen especially during dinner time when it’s chaotic. My husband and I just getting home from work and feeling anxious to make and eat dinner, then get everyone to bed before 9pm. I do things so fast and carelessly a lot. Every time I catch myself I breathe and try to slow down.

    This book has reminded me to stop rushing through life by checking off my to-do list as quickly and efficiently as possible. I’m gaining back the awareness I had when life was much easier. When I realize in that moment that I needed to stop and breathe as I bulldoze through my kitchen is when I practice grace.ReplyCancel

  • Taylor

    Have you ever read Dinner: A Love Story? I think you’d love it.ReplyCancel

  • Lauren McLoughlin

    Riva, your comment really struck a cord with me! I too have a six month old (though my first baby) and just today I was recognizing how much awareness I’ve lost since having him. All my awareness is centered on his needs! Thanks for sharing. Made me feel like I’m not the only one and inspired to regain some awareness and mindfulness on a more regular basis.ReplyCancel

  • Emily

    Amanda, I am in several book clubs, and I must say that yours is by far my favorite. It is clear that your books were selected with care, and I read every question you pose. Thank you for bringing books to my/our lives that we may not otherwise have known. I appreciate all you have done to create this space.ReplyCancel

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