As you’ve probably guessed by now, I’m the kind of person who reads Vogue for the food stories.
Don’t get me wrong, I love gazing at models wearing ball gowns worth more than my car as much as the next gal, but I’m about 45 million times more likely to be found in my kitchen wielding a knife than in a ballroom sporting bugle beads.
Truth be told, I’m much happier in my kitchen than anywhere that requires I wear bugle beads, crystal beads, tagua-nut beads, or any other beads that may suddenly become unstrung and bounce around the floor like a clatter of raindrops on tin. (Yes, this has happened to me! Holding a glass of champagne as everyone gawked at the hailstorm in the room.)
If you give me the choice between high-fashion venues and a humble backyard where people settle into Adirondack chairs to exchange their cares, ideas, and dreams, I’m on Team Backyard every time.
So why read Vogue? Because of its elegant food writing, replete with languorous turns of phrase and fashion-forward ideas.
Fashion, of course, is something that influences our food lives daily. For a while, everyone seemed to be pressing sun-dried tomatoes into ciabatta sandwiches, then everyone Darawas eating quinoa bowls adorned with grassfed flank steak. Be alert to the coming fashions, I say, or you may forget that fondue pots are once again passé or miss out on the greatest thing since avocado toast.
The Heart and Soul of Cooking
My first Vogue food-favorite was the garrulous and charming Jeffrey Steingarten. As a young food critic, I would read him for style: So that’s how you hold the floor with surety; that’s how you amuse and never bore.
My current Vogue food-delight is the inspiring Tamar Adler. Her 2011 book, An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace, takes the practical wisdom of eating your whole head of broccoli and your whole bunch of kale, and creates meals as elegant as a hat with long feathers.
“Great meals rarely start at points that all look like beginnings. They usually pick up where something else leaves off,” Adler writes. “Meals’ ingredients must be allowed to topple into one another like dominos. Broccoli stems, their florets perfectly boiled in salty water, must be simmered with olive oil and eaten with shaved Parmesan on toast; their leftover cooking liquid kept for the base for soup, studded with other vegetables, drizzled with good olive oil, with the rind of the Parmesan added for heartiness.
“This continuity,” she notes, “is the heart and soul of cooking.” And her recipes make the end results more fashionable than you might think.
“If we decide our meals will be good, remanded kale stems, quickly pickled or cooked in olive oil and garlic, will be taken advantage of to garnish eggs, or tossed with pasta. Beet and turnip greens, so often discarded, will be washed well and sautéed in olive oil and filled into an omelet, or served on warm, garlicky crostini. The omelets or little toasts will have cost no more than eggs and stale bread, and both will have been more gratifying to eater and cook.”
Taking up Adler’s now-staple book recently before I went to the farmers’ market, I resolved to try to live like her and throw nothing out. It was high sweet-corn and tomato season, and it’s always onion and garlic season, and the market was full of parsnips, beets, and mustard greens.
I boiled a big pot of corn, cut the kernels off the cob, and served them warm with cream and a bit of thickening flour, for that fresh creamed corn that’s perfect only once a year — though the recollection warms you like a fire all year long. I sliced up the red onions to pickle in red-wine vinegar and honey.
Then I returned the corncobs to the water. They simmered with all the onion scraps and some garlic until it all produced a stock the color of straw with the fragrance of a prairie breeze.
That corn stock became the basis of an everlasting kitchen-sink minestrone. On day one, in went a can of cannellini beans, strips of bright mustard greens, a diced tomato that was riper than I had realized. We ate it with green beans that had been charred over wood in a grill basket with a beer-can chicken.
Day two: The leftover green beans and some parsnips went into the soup, and we had a cup of it with grandma pizza, the dough pushed into a sheet pan, the top loaded with fresh tomatoes. We finished off the last of the beer-can chicken, so the carcass went into a fresh pot with loads of water, plenty of garlic, and a shot of vinegar.
We spent the day at the lake, so we let the stock do its own thing. (I’m a big believer in cooking stock and then turning off the burner, leaving the house, returning later to bring the stock back to a bacteria-killing temperature, and basically letting the stock build its life around you, instead of you building your life around it.) Then I tipped the chicken stock into the remaining corn stock and started over.
True fact: Very ugly and imperfect vegetables, when cut small and dumped into soup, become something more than little unlovely scraps.
When I needed to thin the chives to make way for some garden mums, you can guess where they ended up. When I ran into a friend and we decided to have a spontaneous dinner, my family brought — you guessed it — soup.
I managed to keep this going for a second week, adding water and tomato juice and letting potatoes thicken the broth into something entirely different.
If you take this on yourself, here are my tips: Vinegar can prevent a vegetable stock from tasting muddy, black pepper brings a broth made starchy with a lot of root vegetables into sharp focus, and the winter squashes will take over if you let them, so think about roasting them in cubes first to concentrate their flavors and contain them.
We managed to keep our everlasting-soup experiment going for several days, until we had to leave for a family trip.
As we sat on the airplane, my giant red-enamel stockpot back in its home above the refrigerator, I thought about how the other name for everlasting soup is stone soup. You know the fable: Poor travelers enter a village where the villagers refuse to feed them. “That’s fine,” they reply. “We can make stone soup.”
They set up a cauldron with bubbling water, adding a stone. A curious villager approaches and is offered some of the miraculous soup, if he just contributes a garnish. The villager gladly throws in a few carrots. Another villager contributes a potato. Once everyone throws something into the pot, there’s plenty of soup to go around.
This is not new. As long as there have been people, pots, and cooking fires, there has been someone making soup from whatever’s left over.
Call it stone soup, call it everlasting soup, call it a moral imperative in an unsustainable world addicted to seizing the tenderloin and throwing out the cow. Whatever you call it, it’s an appealing way to navigate the real world of kale bunches that come with stems and a bunch of carrots containing one that looks like a fingery fist.
And if Vogue can make cooking with all the parts not only appealing but downright fashionable? That’s such a cause for celebration, I might even put on my ball gown and do a few twirls in thankfulness to Tamar Adler and big stock pots and farmers’-market tables where you can splurge without a thought to how it could all come together so stylishly.
This originally appeared as “Practically Fashionable” in the September 2019 print issue of Experience Life.