Haverford Winter 2012 : Page 26
Adler’s book, both a food manifesto and a cookbook, is modeled on M.F.K. Fisher’s 1942 classic How to Cook a Wolf. Cookingup AFOOD REVOLUTION In her passionate and practical new book, An Everlasting Meal, Tamar Adler ’99 aims to rally home cooks with her liberating ideas for feeding ourselves well. BY EILS LOTOZO 26
Cover Story: Cooking Up A Food Revolution
In her passionate and practical new book, An Everlasting Meal, Tamar Adler ’99 aims to rally home cooks with her liberating ideas for feeding ourselves well. BY EILS LOTOZO<br /> <br /> Tamar Adler ’99 believes that we all have the means to feed ourselves well and that cooking is the way. She wants us to know that cooking does not require complicated techniques, special equipment, countless hours in the kitchen or very much money. And she’s here to tell us that home cooking is important, necessary, soul-satisfying—and the very best way to navigate a world that seems ever more conflicted about food.<br /> <br /> That is the heartening message at the center of Adler’s book, An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace (Scribner). Both a cookbook and a food manifesto, it quotes Santayana, Seneca and Saint-Exupéry, and offers a series of essays organized into chapters whose titles suggest Adler’s big-picture view of cooking. Among them: “How to Stride Ahead” (on cooking with an eye to future meals); “How to Live Well” (a paean to beans); “How to Snatch Victory From the Jaws of Defeat” (strategies for salvaging culinary mistakes); and “How to Find Fortune” (about the wondrous things you can do with several common but “persistently underestimated” vegetables).<br /> <br /> Rallying readers to reject the tyranny of the recipe and embrace the wisdom of the leftover, Adler’s lyrical writing and practical approach—call it sustainable cooking—have been winning fans and gaining wide attention since An Everlasting Meal was published in October.<br /> <br /> Alice Waters, who helped launch the local-food movement with her Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse (where Adler cooked for a time in 2009), wrote the foreword and calls An Everlasting Meal “an important work about living fully, responsibly, and well.” Adler has been interviewed in The New York Times and Mother Jones, and on Martha Stewart Radio, among other places, and has seen the book glowingly reviewed by a raft of food world luminaries. Michael Pollan, author of the bestseller The Omnivore’s Dilemma and a mentor of Adler’s, declared An Everlasting Meal his favorite cookbook of the season. Michael Ruhlman (The Making of a Chef) called it “smart, graceful and strangely, beautifully reassuring.”<br /> <br /> It’s the kind of reception most firsttime authors can only dream of. But Adler, a magazine-editor-turned-chefturned- writer, has a bigger mission: to cut through all the confusion about food and bolster the dwindling ranks of home cooks. “People think they need to know so much more than they do in order to cook,” says Adler, who modeled An Everlasting Mealon M.F.K. Fisher’s 1942 classic How to Cook a Wolf, which proffered a similar kind of encouragement to housewives dealing with wartime shortages. “I want them to know that cooking is something that is within their grasp and you don’t need anything you don’t already have to do it,” she says. “My goal with the book was to give cooking back to people.” <br /> <br /> Cooking, writes Adler in her introduction, “has in recent years come to seem a complication to juggle against other complications, instead of what it can be—a clear path through them.” But her own path to cooking, and to writing about it, wasn’t so clear at first.<br /> <br /> An English major whose senior thesis employed French feminist literary theory in a critique of magical realism, Adler spent a post-graduation year as a public policy intern with the American Friends Service Committee in Washington, D.C. After that she took off with her the nboy friend on an extended tour of Asia, where they came up with the concept for a book about street food and spent time in Thailand photographing and interviewing vendors. “It wasn’t a cookbook,” Adler says about the never-published work. “We called it culinary anthropology, but that was the beginning of the idea of writing about food.” <br /> <br /> Returning to the U.S., Adler pondered her next step. Her Haverford education, she says, had given her a sense of clarity about the ultimate direction her life would take. “Whatever I did,” she says, “it was going to be somehow infused with social justice—with making things better.” Looking for a way to combine her interests in writing and public policy, Adler applied for an internship at Harper’s Magazine in New York. “I thought it was the most politically incisive and by far the best written magazine out there,” she says. Adler got the position, worked hard and was rapidly promoted to associate editor. One of her duties was putting together the odd mix of phone conversation transcripts, excerpts from instruction manuals, memos, stories, poems, etc., that make up the magazine’s evocative “Readings” section.<br /> <br /> She loved the job. But she found herself spending all of her spare time cooking, reading about cooking, or shopping for what she planned to cook next. Adler, who grew up in the New York suburbs, had always cooked—even in college— thanks to the influence of her psychologist mother, who put a home-cooked dinner on the table every night and later launched a second career as a personal chef. Her younger brother John also has the culinary gene. He got his first cooking job out of Wesleyan University, worked at several notable New York area restaurants, and is now a chef at the Brooklyn hot spot Franny’s.<br /> <br /> Two years into her tenure at Harper’s, in 2003, Adler felt she was being “called,” in the Quaker manner, to cook.<br /> <br /> “I clearly was not completely in my skin as an editor, and I didn’t know if I would be completely in my skin as a Cook,” she says. “But I needed to know what cooking felt like behind the line in a restaurant.” <br /> <br /> So she wrote a letter to Gabrielle Hamilton, the chef-owner of her favorite New York restaurant, Prune, asking if she could come and work there, for free, in her off-hours from Harper’s.<br /> <br /> “I would like to do the hardest and dirtiest things that there are to be done in a restaurant kitchen. … If food hasn’t lost its luster after I have peeled hundreds of potatoes and de-veined livers and broken down smelly boxes I’ll re-plot my course,” Adler wrote to Hamilton, who would go on to write the cooking memoir Blood, Bones and Butter.<br /> <br /> Her experience at Prune, which Adler wrote about in a long essay for Salon.com, propelled her to finally leave Harper’s and begin to make her way in the world of food. She worked as a personal chef and did research for Dan Barber, the chef and co-owner (and her brother’s boss at the time) of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a working farm and education center for sustainable agriculture that’s north of New York. Then, at a Vermont wedding (of Anton Kurtz ’98), Adler and her best Friend from Haverford, Olivia Sargeant ’99, got to talking. “We decided we needed to open a restaurant attached to a farm,” Adler says. “We had friends who had a farm in Athens, Ga., so we called them the next week and told them about our idea and they said, ‘That’s funny; we’re already planning to do that.’ <br /> <br /> ” Sargeant quickly pulled up stakes and moved south to work on the project. But Adler was hesitant. “This was six people who are mega-hippies opening a restaurant,” she says. “I’m pretty direct, and I felt at the time I was going to have more and stronger opinions than made sense for a six-person partnership.” <br /> <br /> Over the months that followed, though, she helped with the business plan and the menu and traveled to Athens For the opening. “I was the only one with restaurant experience,” she says, wryly. “Within three days it was totally obvious it needed me and I was supposed to stay.”<br /> <br /> “This was at a time when ‘farm-totable’ wasn’t even a term,” Adler says. “And we were in Georgia. We were trying to create something that wasn’t even on the radar.” <br /> <br /> Within the first two months, the restaurant, called Farm 255, had begun losing buckets of money. “We were all working inefficiently, and all of the partners were on the payroll,” says Adler. A major reorganization changed all that and put Adler in charge as chef. “By all of us working 300 times harder than a human should work, we totally made it happen,” she says.<br /> <br /> Farm 255 went on to thrive, but after a year and a half of working 90-hour weeks, Adler was ready to move on. (Sargeant, though she remains a Farm 255 owner, is also no longer involved in day-to-day operations.)<br /> <br /> The next chapter of Adler’s food education came at Chez Panisse. She’d gone out to California to get a sense of the place where the local-food movement began—“I had never been to the motherland,” she says—and planned to spend a few days in the kitchen at the legendary restaurant, which is generous about inviting visiting chefs in. Within a few days, a room opened up in the house she was crashing at and Adler was offered the chance to fill in for a Chez Panisse chef who’d gone out on maternity leave.<br /> <br /> “When I got there, my palate had been a little bit numbed by all of the things chefs do to food, by all the things we feel we have to do to make something servable in a restaurant,” Adler says. “I look at my Farm 255 menus now, and a salad Would have fried lemon slices, pickled beets AND a fried oyster AND a poached egg. It was all delicious, but …” <br /> <br /> “Within a few months at Chez Panisse, my palate just shifted,” she says. “There is such a serenity there about food. It really is the Italian philosophy. This is not about innovation or invention. Food isn’t supposed to be about progress or social ambition. Food isn’t supposed to be anything but delicious, and what a good cook does is take good ingredients and cook them. A lot of what I say in my book I felt confident saying because of my time at Chez Panisse.” <br /> <br /> By the time she left there in the fall of 2009 she felt certain of one thing: She needed to be writing. Adler had read How to Cook a Wolf years earlier and been enthralled by its humor and poetry and had it in mind as a model for something she would like to write some day. “But it took me a long time to have the guts to do it,” she says. What moved her: “I’d started to have this sense that cooking was simpler than we thought, and this was something people were starting to talk about.” <br /> <br /> Still living in the Bay Area, Adler began to discern the shape and aim of what she might write: a book that would explode the notion that cooking was something best left to the experts and would inspire more people to cook at home. “I had this deep surge of competitive energy that said, If someone is going to get this message out there, it is going to be me,” Adler says. “So I locked myself in a room and wrote the book proposal.” (Advising her on that proposal was Michael Pollan, who also read various drafts of the book.) Adler got an agent and decided to move back to New York and take a room in the Brooklyn apartment of an old friend. She Was driving through Arizona on her return east when she found out she had a contract for the book, which she wrote over the course of a year in a rented office in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope.<br /> <br /> An Everlasting Meal is full of marvelous advice for cooking up thrifty meals based around rice, big pots of beans stewed with fennel and a healthy dollop of good olive oil, and roasted vegetables— a week’s worth of them strategically prepared at one go. (“That comes directly from my mother,” Adler says. “That was just what she did.”) In a chapter titled “How to Light a Room,” she details the wondrous abilities of fresh herbs to “perk up whatever needs perking.” “How to Teach an Egg to Fly” reveals the myriad ways “an egg can turn anything into a meal.” Adler even has ideas for tasty things to do with canned food (“How to Weather a Storm”), including a recipe for canned green beans that she swears is delicious.<br /> <br /> Adler is no food snob, but she’s firm on the subject of how the food we eat is grown and raised, opining that “a good egg”—specifically, one laid by a chicken that gets to scratch around outside in the grass—“is worth it.” In a chapter on cooking meat (“How to Be Tender”), she comes down emphatically on the side of eating only humanely raised animals. Adler, who once taught classes in butchery, calls this “the old terms of meat eating, a noble Exchange of good life for good life.” <br /> <br /> Already at work on another book proposal, Adler has been a busy woman since An Everlasting Meal came out, in demand to teach cooking classes, give talks and do interviews. (Look for a piece about the book in the March issue of Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food.)<br /> <br /> She has finally settled into a life that comfortably blends her dual fascination with words and food, but Adler would like to take her message to an even wider audience—one that doesn’t buy food magazines or possess a collection of cookbooks She would love to get a grant to hand out her book at community centers. She can see workers with FoodCorps (a food-focused nonprofit modeled on the Peace Corps) teaching people how to make simple dishes of pasta and eggs, or soup from a can of chickpeas. Adler thinks it’s high time to make cooking a part of food justice. “Feeding ourselves is something we deserve to be able to do,” she says.<br /> <br /> Tamar Adler will speak at Haverford College on March 19. For a complete list of her upcoming cooking classes and talks, go to tamareadler.com.<br /> <br /> BREAD SOUP<br /> <br /> I subsist contentedly through the winter on a basic bread soup that’s true to the spirit of bread, which is that if you have it, all you need to turn it into a meal is whatever else you have.<br /> <br /> To make basic bread soup, heat a half cup olive oil in a soup pot. Cook a cup of any combination garlic, onion, leek, and celery, finely sliced, until tender, salting the vegetables immediately to keep them from browning. Add a half cup roughly chopped fresh parsley and rosemary or the leaves from a bunch of celery, four cups cubed stale bread, crusts removed, and, after stirring well, four cups any combination vegetable cooking liquids, meat broths, and bean broths you have, and the rind of a piece of Parmesan. Let it cook covered for twenty to thirty minutes, adding water if it starts to stick, until the bread has broken down completely.<br /> <br /> All bread soups are somewhere between soup and solid. The best way to tell if yours is done is by knowing it will thwart attempts to classify it as one or the other and, instead of trying, take if off the heat when it tastes good. Remove the cheese rind. Drizzle heavily with olive oil, grate with parmesan cheese, and top with freshly cracked black pepper.<br /> <br /> Bread soup recipes recommend serving them “very hot.” Whoever wrote the original ones knew that no matter how slim the pickings for your pot, with the temperature of the liquid inside, at least, you could be spendthrift. It feels nice to be unstinting with some part of a dish. I let bread soup cool before eating it because I like it better lukewarm. —From the chapter “How to Have Balance”<br /> <br /> The Accomplished Amateur<br /> <br /> Sasha (Rieders) Coffiner ’00 <br /> <br /> A K I T C H E N I N B R O O K L Y N<br /> <br /> How many busy intellectual-property lawyers do you know who not only make delicious and healthy meals every night of the work week, but also manage to carve out the time to document those day-today culinary achievements? We can think of only one: Sasha Coffiner.<br /> <br /> Her blog features recipes for her own versions of some of the best restaurant food in Brooklyn (ramen, dumplings, ravioli) along with a dedicated section on the artfully decorated cupcakes that are her specialty.<br /> <br /> “Cooking is something you can teach yourself if you’re patient with it,” says Coffiner. “Be adventurous. Take it step by step. You’re going to have some things that don’t work out—I even still occasionally have things that don’t work out—but more often than not, you will make something that you can learn from.”<br /> <br /> Coffiner began cooking when she was in law school, as a way to be kind to both her pocketbook and her waistline, but she didn’t start her blog until Thanksgiving of 2009. She was so inspired by the suggestion that she write about what she had cooked for the holiday meal that she went straight home from turkey dinner with her in-laws to pen her first post. She now has readers from all over North America, and though she does the bulk of the writing and photography herself, occasional posts by other Fords (like Charlene Peacock ’00, Ariel Hansen ’01 and Christina Talcott ’01) have also appeared.<br /> <br /> “It’s been really rewarding,” says Coffiner. “As I’m inspired by different cooking projects or baking—which is really my true love—I can share them with others.” —Rebecca Rabe<br /> <br /> The Publishing Professional<br /> <br /> Cheryl Sternman Rule ’92<br /> <br /> 5 S E C O N D R U L E<br /> <br /> Cheryl Sternman Rule has a 360-degree perspective on cooking. She attended the Professional Chef’s Program at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, apprenticed with a cookbook writer and, after moving with her family (including husband Colin Rule ’93) to Northern California in 2004, started her own freelance food-writing career.<br /> <br /> “I didn’t have the confidence to call myself a writer before I went to culinary school,” says Rule.<br /> <br /> “The pivot point for me to become a food writer was to make sure that I had the technical training and the confidence and the background actually creating food. I knew that if I was going to write about it, it needed to come from a place of actual knowledge and hands-on work, rather than simply envisioning what it might be like to create recipes.” <br /> <br /> She started blogging in 2008 as a natural outgrowth of her burgeoning writing career. (Her work has appeared in EatingWell, Cooking Light and The Chicago Sun-Times, among other publications.) Over the years, 5 Second Rule has blossomed into a lusciously photographed site full of recipes, seasonal eating tips (like the recurring feature “What’s Ripe Right Now”), personal essays about food and family, cookbook recommendations and missives from the farmers’ market.<br /> <br /> Rule’s first book is due out in April. Titled Ripe: A Fresh, Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables (Running Press), it is a gorgeously photographed homage to the visual beauty and versatile, delicious taste of fresh produce.<br /> <br /> “I was aware that the conversation around fruits, and even more so vegetables, is always very serious,” says Rule of why she wanted to write a book that made everyone as excited about fruits and vegetables as she is. “It always revolves around health and how the environment depends on us reducing our meat consumption … but I have a lot of friends who simply don’t respond to that type of messaging. And I really wanted to appeal to people who are coming at their dinner, not on an intellectual level, but simply on a practical level. They want to be inspired, and they don’t want to be taught.” —R. R.<br /> <br /> The Eager-To-Learn Teacher<br /> <br /> Lis Fogt ’96<br /> <br /> P A N & I N K<br /> <br /> When English teacher Lis Fogt decided to stay home full-time with her two young sons—3-yearold Gabe and 2-year-old Owen—she didn’t have a lot of experience as a cook or a writer. So she started Pan & Ink in May 2010 to remedy that.<br /> <br /> “The blog is the story of me learning to cook and coming to terms with being a stay-at-home parent,” she says. “It’s about developing my domestic side.” <br /> <br /> Fogt’s site is chock-full of lengthy personal essays and food-magazine- worthy pictures that celebrate the sensual pleasures of a bowl of freshly washed farmers’ market cherries or the glossy sweetness of biscotti dough. At first her easy-to-follow recipes, for things like fig and frangipane tart or coconut curry, were mostly culled from cookbooks and online resources. Now many of them are her own creations.<br /> <br /> “I’m a teacher, so it’s fascinating for me to monitor how I learn and develop as a cook,” she says. “Some of it is study, and other times it’s moments where you realize you know more than you thought.” <br /> <br /> Fogt is especially inspired to try new things in the kitchen by her husband, Steve Manning ’96. (She recently discovered she likes broccoli, after years of avoiding it.) In fact, it was their early days as a couple, living in the Haverford College Apartments, that spawned her earliest culinary experiments: chicken parmesan or pasta, accompanied by red wine that they put in the fridge, not knowing any better.<br /> <br /> Fogt now enjoys making whole-grain baked goods for her kids and the sensory experience of putting together a batch of homemade dough for empanadas or pies.<br /> <br /> “Dough is probably my favorite thing to make, because it’s a rare chance to touch what you’re making with your hands and not a [kitchen tool],” she says. “I love the feeling of dough and watching it transform from really basic ingredients into something so delicious and so beautiful, too. You can get lost making a dough.” —R. R.<br /> <br /> The Well-Traveled Academic<br /> <br /> Anita Verna Crofts ’92<br /> <br /> S N E E Z E !<br /> <br /> The first thing you’ll notice about Sneeze! Is that there are no recipes. Anita Verna Crofts loves to eat and finds cooking relaxing, but her blog isn’t focused on teaching readers how to make a meal or sharing her own stories from the kitchen. Instead, it’s an outgrowth of her research on food and identity.<br /> <br /> “What tends to trip my wire are stories where there is a connection between someone’s sense of place or sense of self and the food that they eat and prepare,” says Crofts, a lecturer in the Department of Communication at the University of Washington and the former food editor of the Seattle magazine ColorsNW.<br /> <br /> The posts on Sneeze!, which began in January 2009, discuss new food-related books, examine news stories (like the way food carts were used to build buzz for the HBO fantasy show Game of Thrones), and ruminate on the food traditions that Crofts observes in her travels (for example, what the tradition of meat eating in Namibia says about the country’s colonial history).<br /> <br /> Her interest in food, and therefore the perspective of her blog, are those of an ethnographer. The former anthropology major and East Asian studies minor traveled in China as a Haverford student and later as a Watson Fellow. Those experiences, says Crofts, made her the “chowhound” she is today.<br /> <br /> “It was my time in China that immersed me in what it means to live in a culture where food has such a central role in a society,” she says. “[My] wanderlust continues, but it was China that taught me how to eat, how to cook. It was China that taught me about why the connection between food and identity is so strong, and allowed me to reflect back on my own country.” —R. R.