One of the biggest lessons I learnt last year was that eating well has a significant impact on my mood and general happiness. I know that, at 33, it was a tardy lesson. But, better late than never. This revelation didn’t mean I always stuck to healthy foods, of course. Sometimes, I thought, cake is nicer than anything, ever, so who cares about afternoon slumps; sometimes I got myself into a unhealthy loop where the only thing to soothe the hangover was a chicken katsu curry. Most of the time, though, when I found myself eating food that I knew would make me feel bad later, it was because of convenience. I ate the Nutella from the jar because I was hungry and there was nothing else in my house. I went to Pret and bought a sandwich because the process of making a salad was too daunting that morning.
And that’s where Tamar Adler, and her book, An Everlasting Meal, comes in. Adler is an American food writer for esteemed publications such as The New York Times and US Vogue and, before that, she worked at the highly regarded and hugely influential Chez Panisse restaurant in San Francisco. She knows her stuff. And, in An Everlasting Meal, she imparts that information in stylish prose, dropping anecdotes from childhood alongside Walt Whitman quotes and Seneca and Plato references. An Everlasting Meal is an elegant treatise on cooking and living well, and the chapter on roasting vegetables – called How To Stride Ahead – is my favourite of the lot.
Basically, it goes like this: every Sunday, Adler says, you should go to the farmer’s market (sometimes, I go to the farmer’s market; sometimes, I go to Tesco) and buy bagfuls of in-season vegetables. Then, you roast them. The beetroots and the broccoli and the cauliflower and the carrots. The sweet potatoes and the squash. The garlic and the artichokes. Season them and brush some oil on them and pop them in a hot oven. Do it in big batches. Take them out when they’re done. (She’s vague about exact times, because it obviously depends on the vegetable. Plus, Adler’s book isn’t your average didactic cookbook; there are no pictures, for example, just thousands and thousands of words.)
You can whip up a salad on a Tuesday morning by adding your cooked-on-Sunday vegetables to leaves with herbs and nuts. You can eat well and healthily – and conveniently – for the whole week
Once you have your roasted vegetables, you have the beginnings of an infinity of meals, healthy ones at that. So, you can keep your vegetables in jars at room temperature (or in the fridge, if you’re finicky about germs) and use them as the base for a vegetable curry or a soup later in the week. You can snack on a lovely cooked sweet potato; you can make a sandwich with boiled eggs and three-day-old roasted beetroot (it’s nice, I swear). You can whip up a salad on a Tuesday morning by adding your cooked-on-Sunday vegetables to leaves with herbs and nuts. You can eat well and healthily – and conveniently – for the whole week because you’ve taken a couple of hours to prepare on a Sunday.
Of course, it’s not always possible and, to be honest with you, I managed it less than I would have liked in 2016, but each time I did it, I felt good – wholesome and resourceful and sensible. And healthy and happy. It’s a true example of small change, big difference, and I’m aiming to do it throughout 2017. If though you are looking for an even smaller change, here’s another nugget of wisdom from Adler: after you have finished cooking something in the oven, leave the door open so that the heat escaping from the turned-off oven can warm your kitchen. It doesn’t make a big difference, but it’s a little blast of warmth to be enjoyed on January evenings.