Monday, August 18, 2008

Alone In The Kitchen With A Zucchini

It is an interesting thing to cook for one's self. Growing up, I cooked a lot, but it was never for less than five people, the majority of the diners being male and hungry. This gave me a lot of experience in cooking large, satisfying meals. Cooking alone, however, is it's own special breed of experience.

I am actually a pretty good cook. My cookies are legendary, my macaroni and cheese has been praised at several potlucks (this ain't no blue-box shtuff here). Also, you haven't lived until you have eaten my chicken tetrazzini. My ex-boyfriend might have had his faults, but even he knew that this stuff deserved three helpings.

Of course, I also seem to have fabulously awful experiences in the kitchen. Like tonight, when I dumped an entire pot of pasta down the sink while draining it. Invariably burners have smoky burning episodes when I cook on them. And of course, my mom will always be able to say to me, "remember that time when you put in tablespoons of baking soda instead of teaspoons of baking soda and the banana bread exploded in the oven?"

Tonight I found myself in the kitchen cooking a fabulous improvised recipe involving bacon, zucchini, pasta, and asiago. Barring the episode with the sink, it turned out pretty well. Next time I might try to add a cream sauce. But sauce felt too over the top when I was going to be the only enjoying the fruits of my labor. As satisfying as my dinner was, not cooking for or with other people felt like too much work.

I recently picked up a copy of Alone In The Kitchen With An Eggplant, a book of essays on "cooking for one and dining alone." While this might seem a depressing premise for a book, it is actually quite enjoyable (and the authors even include recipes! It's like two books for one!). The myriad authors were both self-deprecating and fiercely independent, asserting their rights to prepare a five course meal for no one but themselves, while acknowledging the sinking feeling one gets when asked "table for one?"

I don't cook for myself much, usually there are brothers or friends around to be the recipients of my labors. But I do dine alone quite a bit. A couple of weeks ago I was given a gift card for Palomino that expired that night, and since I did need to get dinner out before I went to a meeting, and it was too late to find a friend to join me, I decided to go alone. It felt slightly indulgent to have a dish of pasta and a glass of wine all by myself, eating slowly while reading my book, overhearing bits of conversation from the loud parties around me. But it was also liberating to be secure enough in myself to not feel like I had to hide from my singleness, from my independence.

I suppose this eating alone thing has a layer of metaphor for my life: I am joyful in my single state, secure in the knowledge that I am a whole person all by my little lonesome. But sometimes I am also, well, lonesome. Desirous of company, a table for two. Wanting to cook for someone else.

I won't be cooking for just myself for too long-my housesitting gig will be up at the end of the week and then in a month or so, if all goes according to plan, I will be cooking for roommates. But I am sure there will still be nights when I will be alone in the house and I will have to decide: peanut butter and jelly, or cream sauce?

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