Last year for Christmas, I was gifted Tamar Adler’s 2011 book An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. This, along with some shifts in our shopping routine lingering from pandemic adjustments, has affected the way I cook. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, if any of you are still out there, it has certainly affected my presence in this little space.
First, the book. Adler’s objective is to help her readers understand cooking and eating not as a series of steps followed in a recipe, or a collection of impressive meals that can be trotted out for company or posted on Pinterest or Instagram. Instead, it is “a book about eating affordably, responsibly, and well, and because doing so relies on cooking, it is mostly about that” (Adler 1).
But it goes further than that. As Alice Waters says in her Foreword, “the book is profoundly economical; it is predicated upon the idea that nothing should be wasted, that cooking well is built upon a deep, preservative impulse” (xv). In the height of pandemic conditions, as we ventured out to grocery shop once every two or sometimes every three weeks, my impulse too was deeply preservative.
I’ve already tried hard to cut back on food waste in my kitchen, spurred mainly by my day job: the main text I teach in my introductory college composition class is about waste of all kinds, and food waste is a major topic of research and discussion among my students. So Adler’s subject matter already appealed. But her approaches drove me to want even more efficiency and resourcefulness in my cooking. (Also, her writing is delightful and sharp and lyrical, and every one of her chapter titles – all begin with “How to” and are followed by something so unexpected and lovely in the way they relate to her subject matter – pushed me forward in the book until I’d consumed the whole thing in a matter of days.)
This is the first connection to the title of this post. “Resolve” breaks down into two words: “re” and “solve.” To solve again is both frustrating and satisfying: frustrating in that it implies the first solution to a problem wasn’t enough, or perhaps could be improved upon; satisfying in that it leads to an even better result, whether that is more delicious, faster, cheaper, less wasteful, or all of the above.
My re-solving caused problems for my already flagging attention to this blog. I didn’t go as far as Adler does in terms of reuse, sometimes using each pot of water for three or four different cooking tasks (blanch vegetables first, then use that same water for pasta, then boil off potatoes for later use, and finally make a pot of beans), but I did look to the potential of various jars and scraps and oils in my fridge I’d previously discarded. Why not, for example, use that remaining pickle juice in the jar for a marinade? Liquid left over from briny kalamata olives can be good for this too, and a splash of sauerkraut juice in a salad dressing adds both salt and acid. Flavored mayonnaises and sauces not quite finished in one meal found reuse in other dishes – or even inspired new meals intended just to make use of them – and the collection of all-but-dregs jars jostling for room on my refrigerator shelves multiplied.
But this is not necessarily great for bloggable recipes. “Add a splash of leftover sauerkraut brine” is not a step many would be pleased to follow, unless they were fortunate enough to already have an almost-empty jar of cabbage-y funk languishing away on the back shelf hoping for application. “Remember that spicy mayo you whisked up last week? Dig that out and add some rice vinegar and honey for sandwich slaw” is only useful if the previous recipe post introduces that spicy mayo and intentionally makes extra. That kind of forethought was not something I was capable of, between everything else I was doing. It still isn’t. And the problem intensifies if the ingredient isn’t actually from my own kitchen. “Drizzle on the leftover aji verde from your favorite Peruvian restaurant” or “stir in the remaining sushi ginger from last week’s takeout” doesn’t quite work in this medium.
Yet this little space still existed, deserted and gathering invisible, digital dust. My previous attempts – stand-out dinners intermixed with annual projects – were no longer adequate solutions. The “is it good enough for the blog?” gremlin is insidious, and usually leads to deciding “it’s probably not,” which is easier and quicker even if it is guilt-inducing. Re-solving is clearly needed. And that leads us to the second connection to this post’s title, and to the time of year. The more commonly understood definition of “resolve” is about determination and purpose. It’s about making up your mind and having the strength to carry out your decision. It’s about acting upon a resolution.
I’m resistant to New Year’s resolutions because they are such an easy way to disappoint yourself come February. But I confess I do like the idea of approaching a resolution in its broken-down form: a re-solution. Re-solve. Try again. So here I go. I won’t make any official promises, but I do have the beginnings of an idea and I want to see where it goes. One of N’s recent gifts to himself as he let go of a certain social media site was a New York Times subscription, which comes with access to their recipes. So I’m going to dig in and try that. This is not the most innovative idea, I realize – “make a recipe and then blog about it!” is hardly haute cuisine – but it feels like a manageable jumping-off point not only for cooking, but for my photography and for writing, all of which have lapsed in the last year; all of which I would like to return to.
All I need now… is to gather the resolve.