Lifestyle writing is all about aspiration, which is code for making people envy you and shop accordingly. In our series I Like This Bitch’s Life, the Cut bitterly admits that it’s working.
The first story I read by Tamar Adler appeared last year in Vogue. Its premise was that Adler disliked dessert and so never cooked or ate it — but, if obliged to do so by love for her husband and the rigors of a magazine assignment, she would enlist the assistance of elite professional dessert-makers, cook the fanciest possible dessert, bring that dessert home, and then still not eat it.
As lifestyle journalism, this did not especially appeal to me.
But at home over Christmas (where I baked blondies — a dessert that demands no skill, only butter) I happened to pick up Adler’s An Everlasting Meal. Before Adler was participating in Vogue’s weird relationship to food, she was cooking at Chez Panisse, and before that, editing at Harper’s; now she’s a columnist for The New York Times Magazine. Her 2011 book is a collection of essays and advice on simple home-cooking. I found it sitting around my mom’s house and became engrossed.
“Stale slices of bread should be ground into breadcrumbs,” writes Adler, “which make a delicious topping for pasta, and add crunch to a salad. Or they must be toasted and broken apart for croutons or brittle crackers, which ask to be smeared with olive paste.” Olive paste? Sure. I could buy that. Sounds good. All my old bread was going to taste great now. “Meals’ ingredients must be allowed to topple into one another like dominos. Broccoli stems, their florets perfectly boiled in salty water, must be simmered with olive oil and eaten with shaved Parmesan on toast; their leftover cooking liquid kept for the base for soup, studded with other vegetables, drizzled with good olive oil, with the rind of the Parmesan added for heartiness.” I admired this sense of inevitability. I wanted food to be a solvable puzzle that was also delicious. I wanted a sturdy, spacious kitchen. I couldn’t tell whether I found Adler’s voice annoying or charming (“perfectly boiled in salty water”?); still, I knew what was going on here. I liked this bitch’s life.
An Everlasting Meal is basically a cookbook for leftovers, and I love leftovers. They make me feel like I know what I’m doing and I’m good at it. A woman with leftovers is a woman in control. She won’t be duped into spending $9 on a subpar sandwich. She won’t eat a free cupcake and a bag of nuts and call it lunch. “A nice little meal”: That’s what my dad used to say when he packed up leftovers that included tidy morsels of side-dish alongside a main course. A nice little meal: That’s what I think now when I pack a frugal lunch of cold pasta.
Adler advocates doing things like roasting huge quantities of vegetables on Sundays so you have roasted vegetables to eat throughout the week. I love planning to do things like this. After reading An Everlasting Meal, I spent the next two weeks telling people fun tips from Tamar Adler. “Tamar Adler says you can soak up extra salt with a potato,” I’d say. “Tamar Adler says dry beans are worth it.” As I type this, I am in fact soaking beans. It’s my first time doing so. In a few hours, I will give their soaking water to my house plants, per Tamar Adler’s instructions, even though neither Tamar Adler nor Google can tell me what benefit this might produce.
Tamar Adler loves pasta frittata. Tamar Adler makes parsley oil whenever she has parsley. Tamar Adler endorses lettuce soup. I don’t know if these things are actually good ideas, but when she says so, I start to believe. So far, my boyfriend has allowed me my whims. Still, I know from experience that it’s a cookbook red-flag when you find yourself repeatedly advised to do things like use the best possible olive oil. Like, sure, I’m not going to try to make mayonnaise with some mysterious quasi-virgin blend from the deli down the street, but of course the things you make will taste good if you can afford to buy really good ingredients. This is not a fun tip; this is just a fact. I am not made of $20 bills to throw around on oil.
But you know what? I wish I were. And I wish I used my premium oils to gently sauté greens every Sunday with which to feed myself and my loved ones the whole week through. And, should I choose to blanch those greens rather than sauté them, I wish I would save the cooking water and use it as the basis for a fortifying seasonal soup. Tamar Adler does. I want that bitch’s life.