A martini dirtied with the last of the caper juice. Egg salad sizzled into fried rice. Sauce for noodles born inside a scraped-out nut-butter jar. Sad greens sorted with a “bullish, unwavering practicality.” The encyclopedic array that Tamar Adler presents in The Everlasting Meal Cookbook: Leftovers A–Z, a follow-up to her poetically instructive 2012 book, spells an off-roading adventure in the kitchen. (“Or, or, or” is a common sentence-ender, signaling untold paths forward.) “Listen to your inner voice and follow its lead,” she writes, a mystical voice on a rather prosaic matter: what to do about moldy jam.
“I do feel like, to some degree, how you cook and serve people is a little bit how you live,” Adler says by phone, taking the proverbial saying—You are what you eat—a step further. There is bottomless creativity in her thrift; obvious deliciousness too. (The author and Vogue contributor, now based in Hudson, New York, previously ran a restaurant in Georgia, alongside stints with the literary-minded chefs Alice Waters and Gabrielle Hamilton.) Adler, whose husband works in the climate sector around carbon sequestration, acknowledges that rescuing forlorn produce from the trash heap could seem to be a thimble-size effort. But as the New York Times recently pointed out, food waste—more than a third of it coming from households—contributes twice as many greenhouse gas emissions as commercial air travel. In other words, the odds and ends add up. Adler, who is loath to toss out a perfectly mendable sweater and saves vegetable scraps for broth, paraphrases Wendell Berry: “His statement was something like, ‘God is a materialist, God made things.’ It’s not that I am a particularly religious person, but the idea that to love things and treasure things, like material things—it’s not bad. It’s just that you have to actually love and treasure them.”
Adler isn’t dogmatic, though. She appreciates the wave of self-forgiveness that accompanied the COVID quarantine era. “So many people were publicly saying, ‘Wow, this is hard. I’m not great at this. I thought I was going to run a school out of my house and now we’re just watching movies.’ Or, ‘My family has been living on peanut butter for three days straight and that’s just going to be okay,’” she says. That spirit weaves into The Everlasting Meal Cookbook, as with her instructions for frying: “You’re not doing anything wrong even if it’s a little painful and a little messy. The way you’re doing it is the one you’ll learn from.” Straightforward directives double as gentle counsel. “I’ve had a lot of people tell me that I was writing culinary self-help,” says Adler, who logs a Zoom session with her own therapist in this three-day wellness diary. “I’m practicing what I preach. I’m being as kind to myself as I’m counseling other people to be themselves, which is nice to know.”
The contents of Adler’s double-decker freezer reflect her commitment to the cause. Waffles made with leftover sourdough starter sit next to bagels (gifts from city visitors), croutons, and eight different kinds of sliced bread. Mashed potatoes and sofrito and cheese-less pesto fill a series of ice cube–style trays by Anyday, a brand she learned about while recipe-testing. A blend of chopped ginger, scallion, and Chinese celery—prepped on a particularly industrious afternoon—is earmarked for dumplings. “That’s a reassuring drawer,” she says. “In the past I was looking out for me now, and I think that’s a very self-respectful thing.” Such grace for one’s future self is, in a way, another exercise in sustainability. A line from the book comes to mind: “When leeks look old and tired,” Adler writes, “they remain lively within.”
Wednesday, March 1
6:50 a.m.: My son wakes me up every morning. This is the only way I’ll get up. I’m against alarms unless I have a train or plane to catch. (My husband sets his alarm for 6 then spends like 30 minutes in the shower, but he’s quiet and I usually doze through. He’s away for work this week, though.) Our son is officially allowed in at 7. But he comes in at 6:50 every day, tells me it’s 10 to 7, then spends 10 minutes taking my covers, taking my pillows, and talking loudly about Pokemon cards.
At 7 I get up.
Sometimes I feel like my life is a series of tricks I play with myself. The first of the day is waking up and getting dressed in exercise clothes because it’s actually harder to remove exercise clothes than it is to just exercise at some point before the school bus returns at the end of the day. It usually works. I put on exercise clothes.
I make my son breakfast and lunch—these tasks are usually handed off between me and Pete, but this week it’s me. I sit down with Louis but don’t eat breakfast with him because it’s too early. I drink a mason jar full of half coffee, half whole milk, and maple syrup. I don’t think it’s particularly healthy. But I also don’t think it’s particularly unhealthy. It has what I need for the first few hours of the day—caffeine, fat, and maple syrup.