Apiece Apart Woman: Tamar Adler

Apiece Apart Woman Tamar Adler
Apiece Apart Woman Tamar Adler
Apiece Apart Woman Tamar Adler
Apiece Apart Woman Tamar Adler
Apiece Apart Woman Tamar Adler
Apiece Apart Woman Tamar Adler
Apiece Apart Woman Tamar Adler
Apiece Apart Woman Tamar Adler
 

"There is a prevailing theory that we need to know more than we actually do in order to feed ourselves well. It isn't true." – writes Chez Panisse alum, food writer, and author Tamar Adler in her first book "An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace"

Adler is on to something. There is an earnest applicability to the attitude that we can actually nourish ourselves fully – completely – without doing so perfectly. It is with the same honest approach to her work and to food that Adler speaks of her everyday life. To sleep and to sweat are her throughline necessities. To dwell on changing tides – habits, relativities, comforts – is not. She reminds us, in her earnest admittance, that contradictions are a sign of a life lived wholly. We can find comfort in the choices we make and still yearn for more. We can embrace ourselves as parts of our past without discounting our need to also emerge from it.  We can enjoy white chocolate even if we don't believe in its very classification. 

Earlier this season we visited Tamar at her home in Hudson, NY to discuss improvisational resourcefulness, value in spontaneity, and unexpected pairings. 

Photos by Emily Johnston

Apiece Apart Woman Tamar Adler

Can you share more about your background and upbringing? What has been most impactful in contributing to the woman you are today?
The most obvious thing, and something I've said a thousand times, but is still true, is that my mother really fed us—communicated love through food, and made us breakfast, lunch, and dinner, even while working full time, for as long as we were at home. It has, at various points, annoyed me, but now that I'm a mother, I do the same thing, and I think it's a wonderful thing, and look forward to it annoying my son.
 
The thing that I think is less known is how wild parts of my childhood were, and how much that seeped into me. I think my word choice, certainly in my books, but in some articles, too, can be so mannerly that I'm pictured in mary janes, holding parasols. My father was an Israeli soldier who then ran a security company and owned a Jewish summer camp that was only barely held together by scotch tape and good will. I spent 2-3 months a year there from the time I was two, and it was as far from mannerly as anything can be. He used to force me to walk barefoot on pebbles to get calluses on my feet, and once encouraged me to swim across the whole lake which can't have been above 65 degrees. I had a hatchet, learned to shoot. I climbed mountains and canoed. And he prayed at the altar of nature. So do I. All of that is deeply in me, and makes up a good deal of who I am and why I do what I do.

Apiece Apart Tamar Adler

Your work attests to the art of improvisation. How has this carried into other areas of your life? 
I sometimes worry that I'm all improvisation ... that I have essentially so little experience planning that I'm actually too scared to try it. For a few years I was good about planning my articles for Vogue, and would make three documents for each one. One was "things to go in"; next was "outline"; then was "get it on the page." That trained me out of being scared to start writing, and it was efficient. But somehow I lost the habit, and have recently reverted to going with the flow, which is less reliable.
 
When it comes to other areas of life, it's really all loosy goosey. We moved from Brooklyn to Hudson, NY a few years ago because we visited once and liked it. We settled on our son's name in less than a minute. I don't know if this is improvisation or impulse. But I think I sort of believe on a cellular level that no matter what I decide, there will be good and bad, perks and drawbacks. I'll always yearn for something else, and always find something worthy in what I've chosen. I don't mean that I'm a zen master. I think it may be a breed of laziness, or laziness mixed with a few drops of wisdom. But I guess I feel like if there's always going to be something unexpected, and always going to be some greener grass, then why waste time deliberating and planning? I can truthfully say I've wasted time doing many things, but never deliberating or planning.

Your book "Something Old, Something New" inspires a resurrection and revival, just as much as a revision of, classic recipes. Where does preservation fit into the equation? What about preserving elements of the past speak to you?
I wish I knew, exactly. One thing is certainly that I was brought up with a very strong mandate to leave things better than I found them, and throwing things away—whether traditions or broccoli stems or recipes—is decidedly resource-intensive and wasteful. That's part of it. Another part is probably that I love stories. I love narrative, and I love the narrative that is embedded in anything from before, and anything that needs burnishing, or needs treatment in a certain way so it can last. Isn't the very word "last" so pure and beautiful it sort of justifies itself?

Apiece Apart Tamar Adler

We’re always learning and relearning, discovering and rediscovering parts of ourselves. Tell us about what you’re learning about yourself now. 
I'm learning that I love being a mother, for one. But everyone does. I'm also learning that I need people and interaction more than I ever thought I did—or maybe more than I used to. I used to think I'd be happy alone in the woods somewhere, as long as I had enough food, wine, and books. I don't think that's true of me now. 
 

Unexpected pairings. We love learning how others think about combining things in unexpected yet delightful ways. What comes to mind for you?
Me and my husband. Others: scotch and, of all things, white chocolate—which I never like, and isn't even chocolate, I don't think, but which tastes great with scotch. While I was writing my first book, I was so stressed out and didn't want to leave my writers' space so badly that I made a bowl of microwaved leftover white rice, hot sauce, and crunchy peanut butter. And it was pretty great. Red wine and espresso go well together, too. So do anchovies and mozzarella.

Apiece Apart Tamar Adler

How do you show up and care for yourself?
I am strict about sleep. Unbelievably strict. I shoot for 8-9 hours every night.I actually try to set myself up for 9 because I almost always wake up during the night, and often take a while to fall asleep. So 9 means 8, and 8 would mean 7, and sleep is my medicine and my Achilles heel. When I'm tired, everything seems difficult, insurmountable, stressful, unjust. When I'm rested, everything seems doable.

Exercise is, after sleep, the most centering thing for me. I used to run, which was the absolute best, and kept me calm and optimistic. Recently, I've been getting injured, and had to resort to only occasionally running and trying to find other ways to sweat. But as long as I find them, at least 4 times a week, I feel good. I've never done any other things—like, no special lotions or diets or facial care or practices. But sleep and exercise seem magic for me. I also doodle and draw, usually when I'm on the phone, but sometimes just sitting. That is calming, too.


What are you reading right now? What books do you always recommend or have perhaps given as gifts?
I'm reading "The Importance of Living," by Lin Yutang. I'm also reading "Murder Must Advertise," by Dorothy Sayers and "From Bacteria to Bach and Back" by Daniel Dennet. I'm also reading a galley of "The Bread and The Knife," and a novel called "How it All Began" by Penelope Lively. That sounds like a lot, I'm sure, but I don't really read books all the way through, and don't read them all at once. I have a lot going and choose one based on the room I'm in—they're scattered everywhere—and my mood.

I give Richard Olney as a gift, and also Katherine White's "Onward and Upward in the Garden."
 

Apiece Apart Tamar Adler