Saturday, October 5, 2013

An Everlasting Meal

Following completion of the Live Below the Line challenge, I can honestly say I've been thinking about food a little differently. Often, it's the more magnified understanding of what food really costs but equally, I am able to remind myself about what it can cost. I spent most of last weekend eating out and spending twice the amount of five days living below the line ($11.25) on a below par meal was very frustrating (Beach Babylon, you've seen the last of me).

I am pretty pleased with the meals I created over the challenge (especially the nachos) and considering the budget, even more so. During the week, I made a variation of the pumpkin, carrot and potato fritters, adding both white and black sesame seeds for colour, some pinenuts (for lack of cashews in the pantry) for richness and a large tablespoon of Australian bush herbs. All simple enhancements, based on what I have lying around - this is full-heartedly the type of cooking I enjoy.

A glimpse into my humble pantry

I'm sure it is becoming evident for anyone who reads my blog that I thrive on making the most of what's already in the pantry/fridge or what's cheap and readily available (e.g. in season). Maybe it's been ingrained into me since I was a kid, shopping at the supermarket with my parents where we only ever bought items that were on special. It never occurred to me that everyone else didn't do the same until I started flatting in university! Of course, now, there are exceptions for specialty ingredients but the principle has stuck.

Reflecting on the limited budget available during Live Below the Line, this is in fact how many people have to shop every week. As while we are aware of those who live in extreme poverty in underdeveloped countries, there are also those who struggle to live week-to-week, even day-to-day, in our developed towns and cities.  Even for those of us who are merely on a budget, for any number of reasons, we have to make sure we can get the most out of our dollars.

Instead of teaching people how to spend their money, An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace, by Tamar Adler (2011), teaches readers how to cook: simply, smartly and, as the title suggests, with economy and grace. She inspires readers to rediscover food and, most importantly, to find the courage to trust their intuition.

'An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace' book cover 

Instead of being a pretty cookbook with lovely photos and sparse pages of recipe text, Adler has written her book as a story, nay, a conversation, with no illustration at all and chapter headings that pay homage to M. F. K. Fisher's How to Cook a Wolf (originally published in 1942). Fisher's book was written during experiences of war-time shortages and struggles, aiming to inspire courage in the kitchen and, subsequently, the home. Adler's is our era's equivalent.

While I am still making my way through the book, by the end of chapter four ('How to Catch Your Tail'), I knew I had to dedicate a post to sharing it's wonderfulness. This chapter, with no doubt, planted a seed with me that inspired the use of my (watery) pumpkin soup to create faux pumpkin risotto to great success. In the following chapter, 'How to Paint without Brushes', she emphasises the fact in which great cooking does not rely on the most expensive specialised tools.  Nor does it depend on following recipes so religiously that you forget about your own intuition and the fact that our pots, our pans and our stoves are all different to one another.  "So you must simply pay attention, trust yourself, and decide."

This fact is something that I hope I have managed to write around in previous posts where I have consciously tried avoiding to be finitely descriptive with cooking times and encouraged anyone reading to check after a given period of time, and assess for yourself.  For the best thing you can understand in your kitchen are your tools; the next: how to make the most of what you have and/or what you can afford. Or, alternatively, it is realising the opportunities in having less.

In chapter eleven, 'How to Feel Powerful', Adler shares the sure-fire magic provided by certain pantry staples while in chapter sixteen, 'How to Snatch Victory from the Jaws of Defeat' she provides guidance on "turning failures into successes". If only some of the My Kitchen Rules contestants might have read this chapter so they could have avoided throwing entire batches of food into the bin (the most cringe-worthy moments in the programme for me).

So following the conclusion of the Live Below the Line challenge, if you enjoyed following my account I sincerely feel you will get a lot out of this fantastic book. As the abundant praise describes at the start of the book, An Everlasting Meal "reads less like a cookbook than like a recipe for a delicious life" (New York magazine) and that "everything here works to sate the soul - and the stomach" (Booklist). Important to note that I have no affiliation with Adler and my recommendation comes genuinely from the heart and it is simply within my nature to share what I believe in. Luckily due to the wonders of the internet you can see what I mean with this preview (via Scribd), so enjoy and be inspired!

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