"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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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."