Any salad that looks like confetti is a win.
I have read many, many books on food in my thirty short years. There were my vegetarian/flirting-with-veganism years where I couldn't get enough of John Robbins and Erik Marcus. There was my weird fascination with formal diet plans, like the South Beach Diet and The Zone and all the whos/whats/whys/hows behind them. I've read books about the lives of famous chefs and books by journalists playing chef for the thrill of it. Most recently, I've devoured the locavore food bibles by the likes of Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman and Barbara Kingsolver, and through the years, there has been a steady stream of cookbooks rotating through my kitchen, my coffee table, and yes, my bedside table.
But in all those years, I can honestly say no food book has so eloquently, so perfectly stated the very essence of why I cook the way I cook than Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. All these local veggies and eggs, all this wild game and eating the hearts and livers, all this compost and boiling of pheasant bones, all this digging in the back of the fridge and using each ingredient to the fullest - what's the point? The answer is there.
Some favorite passages:
"(This book) doesn't contain "perfect" or "professional" ways to do anything, because we don't need to be professionals to cook well, any more than we need to be doctors to treat bruises and scrapes.... We're so often told cooking is an obstacle that we miss this. When we cook things, we transform them. And any small acts of transformation are among the most human things we do."
"The bones and shells and peels of things are where a lot of their goodness resides.... The skins from onions, green tops from leeks, stems from herbs must all be swept directly into a pot instead of into the garbage. Along with the bones from a chicken, they are what it takes to make chicken stock, which you need never buy, once you decide to keep its ingredients instead of throwing them away."
"Good meat only seems so expensive because we eat meat like children taking bites out of the middles of sandwiches and throwing the rest away. There's not yet a cow with an eternal supply of steaks, a pig that's all loin, or a chicken that is all boneless white meat. Most meat on cows and pigs and chickens is bound in hardworking muscles, and we tend to avoid it because it needs to be coerced into tenderness. Luckily, those hardworking cuts are more delicious than the idle ones."
"We must treat what we love kindly. We must make the most of it. The more we do, the closer we come to the old terms of meat eating, a noble exchange of good life for good life."
Economy is grace. There is inherent beauty in resourcefulness. In our modern world of wealth and luxury and weekly garbage pick-ups, we forget the importance of balance and rhythm in the kitchen. Instead of a bag of frozen chicken breasts, we can choose to purchase a whole chicken from a farmer and roast it on Sunday (with a chicken liver paté appetizer), which then becomes Monday's chicken sandwiches, and then shapes the base of Tuesday's chicken noodle soup. The leftover juices from Sunday's chicken add flavor and depth to another dish later in the week. The ends and bits of the roasted vegetables that didn't make it in the pan enrich the broth of Tuesday's soup. The bread baked to accompany Sunday's chicken evolves into croutons for the salad that accompanies Tuesday's soup, and maybe toasted breadcrumbs for Wednesday's pasta. A piece from one meal falls into the other, which falls into the other. The leftovers of one meal creates the base of the next. It takes time and practice to develop grace in the kitchen, and it's something I continue to work towards, but the reward is endless. An everlasting meal. Imagine that.
Which brings me to this salad. I went for a jog on Saturday and noticed my neighbor had a wheelbarrow full of corn with a "Free" sign next to it. I happily grabbed six ears, a small portion of the cornicopious mountain sitting there. As I was cutting kernels off the boiled corn cobs, my dad stopped by with a quart of cherry tomatoes. I also had a small container of pesto left, made from some basil a friend gave me. Add in a chunk of feta, some olive oil and vinegar, and a good crack of pepper, and a summer salad is born. It's not professional. It's not gourmand. But it's yet another step in the journey to develop my own sense of grace.
Corn and Tomato Salad
This is the type of recipe my mom hates. Where are the 1/4 teaspoon measurements? Where's the precision? Unfortunately for her, I'm going to write it exactly like I made it. Let your own palate and resourcefulness be your guide.
6 ears of corn, shucked
A generous pint of cherry tomatoes (mine were tiny, so left them whole, but feel free to halve)
A generous spoonful of pesto
A generous 1/2 cup crumbled feta
Chopped scallions (I didn't have them, but wish I did - they would've added another punch of flavor)
Olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper to taste
Boil the corn for 5-10 mins or until tender. When cool enough to handle, cut the kernels off the ears into a large bowl. Once the corn has cooled, add the rest of the ingredients, seasoning to taste.