On cooking for one

For some peculiar reason, we in North America seem to equate the number of dinner guests with degree of lavishness the meal should assume. In cooking for one, the assumption is that the meal should hardly take any effort at all. I don't mean this to sound boastful, because that's certainly not my intention, but  I'd like to think I take decent care of myself. I find it vitally important. I get up early to run before work. I do my best to cap my coffee consumption, which trust me, when you are surrounded by coffee shops all day long and free (albeit awful) coffee and former clients asking if you'd like to catch up over coffee, presents quite the challenge. I go to bed early most nights, except during the months of June and September, so insanely busy that in catering, all anyone needs to say is "It's June," so ominously, and everyone stands around in their pressed shirts and black ties nodding, setting aside their exhaustion with another java hit. And lastly, I eat well, or at least I try to, when I'm not eating potato salad out of cartons or picking at a plate of fries over martinis on a Friday night.

"Don't you find it hard, cooking for one?" people ask. Not really. I've cooked for one and two and six, and really it is all the same. Putting a meal together doesn't have to be a lot of work, especially if you are an obsessive menu planner.

Not that I would know anything about that.

When I waxed enthusiastically about a meal I'd made -- creamy white beans with leeks and creme fraiche topped with sirloin, and a salad with avocado and blood orange -- someone asked, "Just for you?" I ate that meal for three days and it tasted equally delicious every time, chilling me down to the tips of my toes.

I do have a few rules. I hold to a two pot maximum. I stick to recipes that serve four or less unless it freezes well, because that's my tolerance level for leftovers. If I will be eating the leftovers at home, they must re-heat well in a pot or in the oven, because I (gasp) live without a microwave; this one is practical. It must be the kind of thing that I can start and leave midway to fetch my laundry from the basement or to read a section of the newspaper, because these are things that invariably happen because I'm an easily distracted sort of person. I know they say to never leave the kitchen while you are cooking, but I do, unapologetically. It helps to develop a sixth sense where you just know when a pot of pasta is finished cooking or when a butternut squash has finished roasting, because you can smell it, or it occurs to you, or a little of each plus tasting.

This entry wouldn't be complete if I didn't confess the following: sometimes I wish I were cooking for more than one. Dinner parties are fun and intimate in their own way; cooking for two is pleasant because it means as you cook you will never risk an empty wine glass. You can keep conversation with this person as you stir a pot of tomatoes into a simple marinara sauce, or keep an eye out on your arborio rice, which will stubbornly stick to the bottom if not coerced otherwise. But the fortunate news is that the more often you cook and eat alone, the more you might not mind it, and sometimes, at least in my life, when the days fill up with the responsibilities beholden in a 9 to 5 or with volunteer work or with catering work or with writing or with classes or who knows what, it is welcome.

And then most nights do not involve a recipe at all. Some nights are eggs, slow poached and served with a bit of smashed avocado and lime and coarse sea salt, perhaps with some roasted sweet potatoes or a salad or sauteed, slick garlicky rapini. Many nights are a piece of fish served over a salad, or some leftover lentils tossed with who-knows-what, or a can of chickpeas dressed liberally with red wine vinegar and a bit of parmesan and maybe some arugula if there is any. Some nights are a tub of hummus and a head of broccoli, especially during the summer months when it is too humid to turn on the gas or I am too tired or I accidentally sat down for a snack and made it my meal. And sometimes the night goes like this, where there's a spaghetti squash that you roast, whole, in a 400 degree oven, because slicing it would mean your knife would get stuck in the middle of the squash as it is wont to do, and one of your deepest fears is stabbing yourself in the eye by accident with the tip of your knife.

You dress the cooked squash with some basil pesto and toss in some fresh basil, sliced ala chiffonade, a few ovendried tomatoes left from August's beautiful, sweet bounty and some greenhouse Romas whipped into submission, blistered and oozing olive oil and balsamic as they emerge, glowing like rubies, from the hot oven. You serve this over a modest amount of organic arugula and top it with plump, just-pink shrimp that have been cooked simply in butter and salt, and you take your microplane and zest a flurry of parmesan over the whole thing. Drizzle it with a nice olive oil and sprinkle chili flakes, and there you have it, a meal good enough for one that requires so little effort. Guzzle -- I've stolen that word from Avis DeVoto, who uses it when informing Julia Child how to eat lobsters -- voraciously, like your life depends on it, and savour each morsel by devoting each minute exclusively to eating and tasting.

I don't know what the secret is to living well, but this is the loveliest base I know.


Post a Comment

Blog Template by Delicious Design Studio