Friday, October 4, 2013

Cooking for One

a recent lunch—no bread, no dessert, lots of salad
I didn't learn to cook as a kid; I never made much beyond brownies until I got married, and then I learned in a hurry. I was horrified by the prospect of having to spend the rest of my life eating my own food if I didn't know how to cook.

Luckily, I had cookbooks aplenty and a husband who would try almost anything, so I learned quickly. For years, I had a quotation on my kitchen wall from an old Fannie Farmer cookbook: "Bad cooking diminishes happiness and shortens life." That about sums up my philosophy.

Fast forward several decades to a point where I am living alone. At first, I didn't feel like cooking much. What's the point? I wondered. Then one day it strikes me: Who enjoys food more than I do? Why should I forgo that daily pleasure? So I started cooking again.

Cooking for one has little support. Several cookbooks are written for couples, figuring, I guess, that new partners and spouses need to feed each other. I think many folks assume that single folk just eat out or eat prepared foods.  So I don't see much about cooking for one person. (The exception is a great book I received this year called The Pleasures of Cooking for One by Judith Jones.) I get tired of eating out at the sorts of modest places I can afford often; also, I don't like most prepackaged foods, except very occasionally. So I started cooking for one.

The first problem I ran into was waste; you can't find small sizes at discount stores, and supermarkets often package things for families. One solution is planning ahead, deciding beforehand what to do with the leftovers. Will you turn your roast chicken into sandwiches, chicken salad, and chicken soup, or will you freeze half of it? If you make chicken salad, you will need celery, and if you make soup, you will need carrots.

Another solution to excess food is to invite a friend for dinner, or drop off dinner at someone's house. Who doesn't enjoy receiving a home-cooked meal? Best, though, is to shop at places that feature unpackaged foods, such as farmer's markets, farm stands, and fish markets. I used to have trouble with salad greens, because I like variety and couldn't finish off several heads before one went bad. Now I can buy mixed greens at most places, so that's no longer an issue.

The advantages of cooking for one are legion. For example, I don't really have to worry about cost, because how much can one person eat? My most expensive extravagance is smoked salmon; a small package costs me about $5 and lasts for two breakfasts, pretty reasonable for a treat. Also, I can try any food or recipe without fear of arguments, snide comments, or horrified expressions. Curious about quinoa? I can make some. Ditto Korean hot sauce, oven roasted green beans, or anything else that strikes my fancy. If the food's no good, I had the fun of making it and no compunctions whatsoever about dumping uneaten portions. Finally, I can make a dish exactly the way I like it: soft scrambled eggs, juicy pink pork, vegetables galore, loads of garlic, and no desserts.

Deciding to actually cook for myself was a good choice. Not only do I eat well every single day, looking forward to almost every meal, but I also enjoy the act of preparing food. Making myself a 3-vegetable quiche or a delicious pot of soup is deeply satisfying. And I get to take pictures....

1 comment:

  1. thanks for this Liz. I struggle with cooking for myself too. I like to eat well and find most meals that I can afford when eating out not too tasty. I have been trying all sorts of things and am constantly trolling for new recipes, Sadly I have discarded many portions of experimental meals . I think I need to get a copy of "The Pleasures of Cooking for One" to see if it can help me.