Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Throw your food across the kitchen and also throw this book ...

Tamar Adler's cookbook and kitchen meditation is titled An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. Her writing has a distinctive style: it's very poetic, but entirely, all 200+ pages, are in the second-person; that is, addressed to "you" the reader.

All of the book is couched as advice. Every statement tells what you must do. After reading for a while, I think that you (and I know that I) started to rebel. Also, it's too fake: she pretends it's simple cooking when it's totally complex and overdone. Excessive!

Advice to Tamar Adler in return for her kind suggestions:
  • When you tell me I must poach an egg, and go on and on about the joys I will feel, and about the little spoonfuls of vinegar I must put in the water, and about yet more joys, eventually I think about throwing the eggs instead of poaching them.
  • When you tell me at great length how I must boil my vegetables until they are soft (and I guess poetic), I think about stir-fry. 
  • When you tell me I must purchase economy cuts of meat, select a few miscellaneous pounds of same from one species (that would be a cow, a pig, or a chicken) and braise them, I think about cooking kebabs on my Weber grill. I do braise things but I don't like to be pushed around.
  • You say I should save the brine from used-up pickle jars and you continue: "I would like to smartly advise you to label and date your potions well, so that you know their vintages and contents." I can't even laugh. (p. 60) 
  • And I don't want to count the number of times you discussed filling numerous jars with lots of things. Like your little glass jars of "cranberry beans, inky black beans, turtle beans, speckled Jacob's cattle beans, and plain burnt umber kidneys [dear Tamar, I hope you mean kidney beans]." (p. 109)
  • You wax poetic about fresh herbs -- "Once parsley, or its fellow soft herbs -- basil, chives, tarragon, dill, and cilantro -- have been quickly chopped, throw a generous handful directly over your rice or potatoes or pasta, and watch the meal begin to prickle with feeling." This gives me a prickly feeling that makes me want to stop reading and go check my crisper where several bunches of herbs from the farmers market might be wilting or rotting. But I keep reading. (p. 70)
  • When you get too poetic and complicated, I want to read Julia Child. Here's an example of too poetic:

    "For people who say that bacon is a vegetable: cook sliced garlic over very low heat in butter and a little water until it is completely tender and stewed. Top toasts thickly with stewed garlic, then very thinly sliced bacon or pancetta. Cook each toast under a broiler until the meat is crisp and its fat has seeped into the bread."
  • Listen, Tamar, bacon doesn't need that kind of help, you are making me think about that dog food commercial where the dog ran around the house saying "Bacon! Bacon! Bacon!" You are just making everything too complicated.

Book selection for this month's
Culinary reading group.
Hearing from Tamar that I must cook everything very carefully by very old-fashioned methods in my own kitchen makes me think about MacDonald's. In fact, I just also finished Eric Schlosser's book Chew on This which would normally make me want to stay away from MacDonald's.  In contrast to Everlasting, Shlosser isn't didactic at all: that's one of his strengths. Chew on This really suggests how to make choices.

I don't want to do EVERYTHING the hard way as Tamar preaches. I want to make compromises, and I want lots of different flavors and styles of food, not just what I can make by taking huge pains with slowly preparing hard-to-use vegetables, farmers' local eggs, and cheap cuts of meat. (Note: some of these aren't even cheap any more because books like this have made them trendy. I won't even talk about trendy which is another flaw of Everlasting.)

I might like many of the recipes that appear in Everlasting. I might even be able to learn some things. But it's too didactic. I rebel instead of learning. I heard of Everlasting because it's being excerpted in The Guardian. LINK HERE. A few excerpts are all you need -- I wish I hadn't bothered to buy the book, but just read these. They don't make you want to do violence to anything at all in your kitchen.

1 comment:

Jeanie said...

That's way too complicated for bacon! I want my bacon as bacon -- skillet, oven, microwave, I don't care! OK -- I'll chop it up for Julia's recipes (or shrimp and grits) and happily because that takes less than a minute and it's tasty but GOOD GRIEF!

Yes, Tamar sounds like the Marie Kondo of the cooking world. Lots of chirpy advice that basically comes down to "My way or the highway, sweetie." I'm all for sharing advice, I'm all for helpful hints but the whole tone is what makes or breaks it for me. This one I can do without! But I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the post and your writing style here!