Who could ever imagine that writing about parsley stalks, boiled eggs and scraps of vegetables could result in something akin to poetry? Adler’s writing dances lyrically on the page and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who isn’t immediately inspired to rush into their kitchen and reacquaint themselves with a pot of salted water or a handful of beans.
All ingredients need salt. The noodle or tender spring pea would be narcissistic to imagine it already contained within its cell walls all the perfection it would ever need. We seem, too, to fear that we are failures at being tender and springy if we need to be seasoned. It’s not so: it doesn’t reflect bad on pea or person that either needs help to be most itself
These days, mention the words ‘home cooking’ and you’ll conjure a few feelings, with two felt the most intensely.
One, that it’s a most inconvenient task in this harried world we live in, a world where food delivery services and pre-packaged goods reign supreme. Or two, it’s a scary, high-stakes competition of you versus the foodie world, in which you have to be something of a Masterchef and serve your family parsnip-two-ways or buckle under the pressure of your duty to whip up potato ‘fondant’ as opposed to its poorer cousin, ‘gratin’ (or let’s go a rung lower with ‘potato bake’). That second feeling is thanks to the myriad of foodie competitions out there, ruining every adult’s weeknights for the last decade or so.
Either way, cooking at home has long forgotten the basics of home economics.
So, no better time like the present — when we’re stuck at home for a prolonged period of time — than to review a book that strips all the fuss back, flings open a pantry of feelings and gives simple guidance for creating memorable food.
Tamar Adler has written a collection of essays aimed at educating and inspiring every single person who ever has a need or desire to prepare food. Her background as an editor at Harper’s Magazine and as a personal chef and head chef for several restaurants gifted her with the know-how for writing and cooking well.
She starts with a chapter “How to Boil Water”. What seems like the most obvious skill in the world becomes an opportunity to impart philosophy of life and home and food. Sure, there are basics, but there’s also knowledge to be imparted that will elevate anyone’s food game. I guarantee you’ll learn something.
Adler was inspired by an early 1940s book titled How to Cook a Wolf, which came about during the trying times of rations amidst WWII. That was a book based on living a full life when you’ve got next to nothing. This book of Adler’s does much the same, with a contemporary twist.
Because basics need not be basic.
A word of note: this is not a cookbook. It does contain plenty of recipes and ideas of what and how to cook, but in a larger sense, it’s a book of philosophy.
Reading this book makes me realise:
I can cook well, by mastering simple techqniques
I don’t need fancy ingredients or appliances to nourish the soul and belly
Invite people into your kitchen, not to your dining table. You’ll have a better experience as a result.
I am a massive fan of this book, not just for its writing, but its resounding message — that no one is ‘born a cook’. The act of cooking is, at first, learnt bit by bit, step by step; and then continued forth by intuition that can only come when you start from scratch and stumble forwards.
This charming ode to cooking reminds us that every plate of food ever served — whether humble and hearty or imaginative and inspired — starts with the most purest and basic ingredients.
By embracing the philosophy of food and cooking itself, we can transform a single pea into a dish worthy of utmost praise. This is a book to nourish; nourish with good, perfectly cooked ingredients, a wholesome approach to life and writing that transports your senses on every level.
A message we need right now, more than ever. This comes highly recommended.
Fable and Fizz would like to acknowledge the Whadjuck Noongar people as the traditional owners and continual custodians on the lands and waters this content is primarily written on. I pay respects to their Elders — past and present. This always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.