Friends, if you haven’t read Tamar Adler’s beautiful book An Everlasting Meal, I implore you to go out today, pick it up or order it from your local independent book store, and when it lands in your hands to devour it in one sitting (or perhaps two).
I love to cook. Even more, I love cooking for other people. But I will freely admit that there are days (like today, as I stay home with a horrendous head cold) that cooking is the absolute last thing I want to do. You know what I mean right? You just got home from a long, frustrating day at work; it’s after seven and it’s raining outside; there’s nothing in the fridge; and you just want to shove something in your face and crawl into bed. What do I tend to do then? Go out for cheap, greasy burritos that I immediately regret, or else make a huge bowl of popcorn (loaded with nutritional yeast, because that makes it better, right?), have a beer, and call it good. You know–pretty much exactly the wrong thing to do when you’re exhausted and hungry, and your body is in serious need of some nutrition. And perhaps even more importantly, your mind is desperately in need of some quiet, meditative time spent chopping vegetables and waiting for water to boil.
Why is it that when we are ill, tired, or in emotional turmoil that the first thing we want to do is the exact wrong thing? Stressed? Loading up on sugar and salt will definitely fix the problem. Sick? Not eating all day because you can’t taste a thing is clearly the best route to take. Exhausted? Greasy food to the rescue! I’ve been realizing lately how destructive those first impulses can be. Stressed? Sick? Exhausted? How about drinking a big glass of lemon water, and then cooking up something spicy, packed with ginger and garlic, and full of vegetables? How about taking a vitamin D and getting some extra sleep? Why is it so hard to take the time to take care of ourselves?
I think a big part of this problem is that self-care is not valued in our western culture. Sitting and doing nothing is practically a sin, and spending extra money on intensely flavored and nourishing food is viewed as frivolous or even irresponsible. And yet how many of us subscribe to at least one email newsletter that touts the importance of positive thinking and eating well? I know that I subscribe to two, and that I hurriedly read them in between cleaning up my inbox and catching up on various blogs (I may or may not have been doing that before I decided to sit down and write this post). But I rarely put them into action.
I think that what I love most about Tamar’s book is that it exists to break down the barriers we build for ourselves when it comes to actually getting into the kitchen and making something. She points out that with a little front-end prepping we can create the foundation of a week’s worth of good meals. She reminds you that eggs are magical, and that good bread can be the basis of a meal. That good olive oil, sea salt, and Parmesan cheese will get you further in life than many other things ever will. She makes cooking a creative process that picks up the pieces from yesterday’s meals and remakes them; takes those veggies that you roasted on Sunday and gives you a dozen possibilities to explore. She leaves you feeling inspired to do better.
Did your vegetable soup from Tuesday get forgotten on the burner and thicken a little too much? Blend it and call it a puree, and serve it under a bed of greens and some slices of chicken from Sunday’s roast. Find a forgotten heel of bread and last night’s pesto pasta? Whip up a few eggs and some cream, mix it with the pasta, top it with bread crumbs and pop it in the oven. You’ll have a fritatta in less time than it would take to walk to the burrito joint, less moldy mystery food to clean out of your fridge next month, and the pleasure of having made something from nothing. All you can find is some cooked rice and old roasted beets? Mash up a bunch of garlic and ginger and chili, add some sesame oil, quickly sautee those almost-wilted greens in your crisper, and pile it all on reheated rice with the beets. Delicious! (The other week E and I ate this for about three days running.)
The real beauty of Tamar’s book for me lies in the idea of going to the farmers market with the intention of creating a week’s worth of meals. Not just a salad, or a special meal or two, but of actually stocking up on vegetables for the week… and then going home and immediately cooking or prepping them. Brilliant! You just got to enjoy walking through the market, visiting with friends, snagging tastes of all of the bright greens and other goodies, and loaded down your bags with nourishing roots and leaves and fruits. Chances are, you’re feeling inspired to cook anyway. So, you arrive home, and instead of shoving your bounty in the fridge, you lay it out on the counter. Roots get immediately washed and popped in a hot oven to roast. When done, the beets are peeled and doused in red wine vinegar and salt–ready for whatever you might choose to do with them: a quick soup with sour cream and chives, topping a salad, snacking. Greens are washed and prepped for fresh salads, or else roasted with lots of olive oil and salt to be perched on top of quinoa or tossed with croutons for a warm salad later in the week. The tail ends of everything are tossed into the pot with a fresh chicken to make stock, then soup, then sandwiches.
The food created in this book is not fancy. In fact, a lot of it is pretty homely to look at (pureed veggies are rarely bright colored, and leftovers are never really that sexy). BUT: it is good food, well prepared, with good flavor, and it takes just a few minutes to toss together. If there is a higher calling in the kitchen than that, I don’t know what it is.
This morning I found these great videos based on Tamar’s book–take a few minutes to watch, and I’ll guarantee you feel inspired to do something with what’s currently languishing in the corners of your fridge. For my part, I’m planning on a serious spicy and gingery stir fry to clear these sinuses and use up the last ends of veggies I have laying around. Be well and eat well, everyone.