You live alone. You cook alone. Such is life. Aloneness does not imply loneliness. It can, in fact, induce creativity. Trying out a new recipe, making up a recipe, or experimenting with an old one, then sitting down with a sense of satisfaction to say, “it worked, lucky me,” can be supremely satisfying. Or conversely, it’s a mess that others need never know about.
The pandemic was a godsend in many ways for people choosing solitude and avoiding home delivery options while guarding their health — a time to experiment and try new versions of old standbys. I found myself collecting so many recipes that after two years, I could almost produce my own book on cooking alone. My daily focus was trying out new and different flavors — and taking pride or risking shame in the results. And, face it, becoming absorbed in food was a great distraction from dismaying news about Covid during the virus’ onward march.
Not that the act of feeding oneself is without frustration at times. But it is always an education. And you inevitably develop an ineffable thing called attitude: I WILL do this; I CAN turn a dozen or more ingredients into a complete dish.
So it was recently with some trepidation that I tried a recipe for a Skillet Vegetable Potpie—described as “hearty yet light.” Just the thing for a mid-winter all-in-one meal. So what if 16 ingredients were required (including a single sheet of store-bought puff pastry)? I would not be intimidated. Besides, win or lose, there would only be one pot to clean later. But in my haste, I failed to follow instructions; I improvised. Cutting up the vegetables tested my patience. The outcome was a mushy, forgettable effort. Into the compost bin it went.
Not to be discouraged, the same week, I tackled another tempting single-pot recipe: Vegetable Yakisoba. Google told me that yakisoba is a Japanese noodle, but ramen or soba noodles would do. Intriguingly, the sauce called for both ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. This time I had a hit. I went on to produce a red lentil soup that even my neighbor, a chef, liked. To raise the bar higher, I volunteered to cook for a family that includes a mother on a keto diet and a father who is lactose intolerant—a challenge to be sure.
In terms of my food preferences, I’m more fish and vegetable minded though I like chicken for its versatility and lamb in any form. I like trying new flavors; I don’t like figuring out measurements for one person only when nearly all recipes are for four or more. Yes, I know that many websites will do the work for me, just as I know about the instant all-in-one pot that seems to be everywhere these days, promising less fuss and more taste. I would appreciate the convenience, but my kitchen, which measures roughly 4 by 15 feet, has limited storage.
I know the marketplace is full of gushing guides such as ‘The Ultimate Cooking For One Cookbook” and “175 Super Recipes Just For You’, but the more books like this I see, the less enticing the purchase.
My personal favorite is an older tome called “The Pleasures of Cooking for One,” first published in 2009. It’s the only one of its kind that my neighbor, the chef, allows in his house. Given his training, he hardly needs professional help. But he appreciates, as do I, that in addition to being a legendary book editor, the author, Judith Jones, was an accomplished cook with impressive credentials of her own.
Jones, who died at age 93 in 2017, is credited with ‘discovering’ Julia Child and helping to translate French cooking for the masses. She had been working in Paris when a lengthy tattered manuscript by Julia and two colleagues caught her attention. The book, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” quickly became a classic that went on to sell millions. The enthusiastic Mrs. Child taught audiences how and why embracing the cooking experience can enhance your life.
One big difference between Jones’s work and some more contemporary authors was her emphasis on the pleasure involved in the act. “Cooking is a sensual experience, and you really should allow all your senses full play,” she says, “Enjoy the feel of ingredients, observe what is happening, taste as you go along, and drink in the heady smells that arouse your anticipation,” adding, “then, when you set everything on a plate, even if it’s just for you – or especially if it’s just for you – make it pleasing to the eye….”.
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