Nearly 30 million Americans live alone. Yet no one seems to cater to their needs. Supermarkets do everything they can to make us buy more than we need, and the food industry sells the idea that it is a waste of time for women to cook when they can buy ready-made products instead. So I felt compelled to share with you the strategies I have devised for beating the system. I wrote a cookbook, The Pleasures of Cooking for One —from which this piece is excerpted—for those of you who want to roll up your sleeves and enjoy, from day to day, one of the great satisfactions of life.
I imagine the naysayers protesting. Yes, I like to cook, they say, but I like to cook for others. Why would I want to go to all that trouble just for me? My answer is: If you like good food, why not honor yourself enough to make a pleasing meal and relish every mouthful? Of course, we want to share with others, too, but we don't always have family and friends around. And I can't see taking in my neighbors every night.
Others object to the expense involved, and the waste. You have to go out shopping, they complain, and buy all those pricey ingredients that chefs call for, and you can't use them up before they turn rotten. Leftovers are boring; who wants to eat cold pork all week? Actually, it's all a matter of strategy . The secret of making cooking for one fun and creative is not to think of a meal as self-contained but to understand that home cooking is an ongoing process, one dish leading to another. When I'm doing my major food shopping on the weekend, I visualize the week ahead. What do I have a yen for? How many meals am I going to be eating at home? If I buy this tempting whole tenderloin of pork, I can see using it in at least three different ways: one night, a few slices sautéed in a lemony pan sauce; another, a simple quick roast macerated first in garlic and ginger (any leftovers from that might go into a hash or a rice dish); and finally, the thinner end piece cut up for an Asian-type stir-fry with lots of vegetables.
Cooking for yourself is particularly creative because you are inspired by what's in your fridge or freezer or garden or nearby market. You don't have to follow a recipe slavishly; you can substitute as you like. If you are prudent, what you save on food costs will astonish you.
Going home at the end of the day or giving over a quiet Sunday afternoon to cooking—smashing the garlic, chopping an onion, getting all those good cooking smells going, stirring, tasting mindfully, and then adjusting the seasonings—is a comforting form of relaxation, something that is needed in our busy lives. I always love the moment of drama, too, when everything comes together and I quickly dish up my handiwork, arranging it pleasingly on a warm plate, and then take it to the table, where I've set a place for one with a cloth napkin in a family napkin ring. I open up the wine and light the candles, turn on some music, and I give thanks. I wouldn't miss this pleasure for anything.
Get the recipes:
Judith Jones' Meals for One
Adapted from The Pleasures of Cooking for One, by Judith Jones, copyright © 2009. To be published in October by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.