All we need to know about dinner and divinity

Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal is one of those favorite books of mine that I haven’t finished yet. I’d like to make it to the end one day, but I’m certainly not in a hurry. I’m savoring it bit by bit, with full confidence that the author herself would approve of my slow read. It’s a book I know I’ll keep returning to even after I’ve finished it, much like the simple, beautiful thought at the heart of the book itself—that the end of every meal is the beginning of another.

It’s a book that deserves, in my opinion, a genre of its own. I’ve never read anything like it. It’s not a cookbook or an instruction manual or a food memoir. I’d say it’s a sort of philosophy of food.

A browse through the table of contents is enough to make you cry: “How to Catch Your Tail,” “How to Paint Without Brushes,” “How to Light a Room,” “How to Make Peace,” “How to Build a Ship,” “How to Be Tender,” “How to Weather a Storm,” “How to End.”

You’d think it’s a book about food, and it is, but it is also a book about everything. Adler will start you off with an egg, then catapult you into the heavens, and finally bring you back down decidedly onto the earth. For example: “A gently but sincerely cooked egg tells us all we need to know about divinity. It hinges not on the question of how the egg began, but how the egg will end. A good egg, cooked deliberately, gives us a glimpse of the greater forces at play.”

I have a tendency to favor beginnings over middles and endings, but the opposite is true when it comes to food. I love the eating and drinking and savoring and lingering. I love a kitchen in action, with peels and cores strewn about the counters and several pots simmering on the stove. In the case of food, it is the beginning that catches me off guard. Why is it that dinner so often feels like a challenge to reinvent the wheel?

Some very wise friends sent us off with this book as an engagement gift, as we set out to establish a life—and a kitchen—together. From the very first pages, it has cut right through any anxieties I may have had about how we would feed ourselves. It’s the idea that eating well has nothing to do with extravagance, that cooking well has nothing to do with fancy tools, and that dinner has everything to do with where you left off in the last meal, or in all the meals that have come before.

I’ve never been much of a planner when it comes to meals, and as far as I can tell, thank goodness, An Everlasting Meal lets me off the hook. In practice, this means that the first inkling of dinner begins with the simple practice of getting a pot of water on the stove to boil and an onion in a skillet to soften. Then, and only then, is it time to start rummaging around considering what’s for dinner.

What comforts me most about this approach is that it begins with doing, rather than thinking. It’s one of those rituals buried in the everyday that, once you’ve realized it’s there, offers both a steady anchor and a comfortable stretch of rope for creative drifting.

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