What do you think when I say, He eats alone?
Did you feel pity for that person? A little sad? Does it remind you of yourself? Did it scare you?
We have such specific images of someone who eats alone. Think Bridget Jones, crying into her ice cream about being a singleton. Or the woman at a table for two, by herself, hiding behind her book hoping no one will notice. Theres some sense that a cook for one is not much of a cook. We feed lovers seductively. We feed our families healthfully. We make feasts for holidays and gatherings.
At home, alone, we stand over the sink eating pasta right out of the colander.
If you read Joe Yonans superb new cookbook, Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One, youll see that his resounding answer to the image of the sad lonely cook at home alone is Hell with that!
In a few days it will be six years since I stopped eating gluten. Six years?! How the heck did that happen? I remember my trepidation mixed with excitement mixed with fearful joy. I was a bit of a mess at first, as we all are.
Five years ago today, I met Danny, my best friend and favorite confidant. Five years ago that morning, you could not have told me that I would be waking up next to this man on Vashon Island, with our daughter sleeping in the room next door. When she ran into our room this morning, she dove onto our bed for hugs. Next, she stood between us, looked out the window, and pointed excitedly, Look, Mama! Cherry blossoms. Cherry blossoms, Mama! Danny and I looked at each other in amazement again. We feel so lucky for all of this.
However, youll notice that there was a solid year between my diagnosis and meeting Danny. (Actually, I met him four days to the year.) That first year, I cooked alone. And did I feel like a singleton, someone who should just munch on cottage cheese with sunflower seeds right out of the tub? Hell with that!
I have such fond memories of that first year of being gluten-free. And luckily, most of it is documented on this website, with the photos I took on a tiny point and shoot camera, dazzled by the lightness I felt in finally being well. I cooked and ate with great joy. I realized quickly and I still feel this way today that every time I cooked with real food, with attention and laughter, I was healing myself. I threw myself into it with abandon.
Within a year I lost my fear of gluten-free flours, cooking meat, making mistakes, and eating alone. I invited friends over nearly every night, because nothing brings people together like food. However, most of the nights I came home from teaching school, threw the papers on the couch to be graded later, and began cooking. Cooking was my solace, my space of creativity after a long faculty meeting, my singular passion. The more I cooked, the more confident I felt in the kitchen. The more confident I felt in the kitchen, the more I wanted to cook.
When Danny walked into my life, he walked right into the kitchen. We started cooking together.
Sometimes, now, I miss that space in front of the stove by myself. Oh, I have it now, between the time Lu goes to sleep until Danny walks through the door, done with the restaurant for the day. I love cooking even more deeply now than I did that first year of being gluten-free, but its not the same. Now, cooking is about developing recipes, building flavor, feeding our family, and trying to make every meal healthy and delicious both. I love it, but this kind of cooking doesnt have the same abandon.
Theres a freedom to cooking when you feel you have no one to please but yourself.
Thats one of the reasons I love Joe Yonans book so much. He cooks with great passion and gleeful creativity.
His refrigerator is apparently stocked with condiments and good ingredients. Heres why: Im a zealot about the fact that if youre fully stocked, making something quick at the end of a long workday is that much easier. I think it might even be more important for single folks than for others, because it allows us to make bigger batches of things when we have the time, but then just use a little of it to help punch up a single-serving meal that doesnt result in a mountain of leftovers. (Pssst. Danny and I believe this is vital if you are married or in a family too. Well be talking about that a lot in our next cookbook.)
This philosophy leads to a chapter on condiments and sauces that has me itching to get into the kitchen right now: herbed lemon confit, cashew tamari dressing, blueberry lemon jam, salsa verde, cabbage and pear kimchi, citrus-pickled onions. These recipes are so good that the book is worth its price for this collection alone.
However, Joe Yonan also produced great recipes for main dishes like smoked trout, potato, and fennel pizza. Thai fried rice with a runny egg. Personal paella with squid and scallions. Farfalle with cantaloupe and prosciutto. Catfish tacos with chipotle slaw.
Yikes but Im hungry now.
You may notice from looking at that list that none of these is a traditional dish. Some of you may think it sounds a little too exotic. Remember that Joe Yonan is the food editor for the Washington Post, so he created this book for people who love the world of food. That could be you too. For me, thats half the joy of cooking: finding new ingredients and flavors that seem a little strange but end up feeling like a familiar friend after the first bite. Before I was gluten-free, I ate about the same 10 meals over and over again: lasagna, pizza, pasta, enchiladas, some casserole. Now, I rarely eat the same meal twice, unless we are testing a recipe for a cookbook. The chance to learn ingredients from around the world is a gift.
Buy Joe’s Yonan’s book and youll certainly not be bored. If you cook for a family, you might find yourself multiplying the ingredients in a recipe by 3 or 4 to make some of this food for everyone.
Or, you could be like me after this book arrived and throw away the deadlines, the revisions, and the expectations of family meal arriving to the table on time. You might just step into the kitchen by yourself and have one hell of a great time.
p.s. Sorry for the weird alignement issues on this post. For some reason I cannot figure out how to double space it at all.
PROSCIUTTO AND ASPARAGUS TORTILLA, adapted from Serve Yourself
If tortilla makes you think of Mexican food, think again. This humble dish is Spanish in origin. That’s why it was Spanish chefs who inspired Joe Yonan to throw potato chips, instead of sliced potatoes, into his tortilla. “…chef-genius Ferran Adria makes a tortilla de patatas with potato chips….That same year…my friend chef José Andres, a protégé of Adria’s, also included a potato-chip tortilla recipe in his energetic book.” Thank goodness for all three, because we are now hooked on this quick method for making a tortilla.
Yonan made his with shrimp. We were thinking about the flavors of spring and decided on a prosciutto and asparagus tortilla. You should play too.
2 large eggs
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
1 ounce potato chips (depending on the size of the chips, this is about 6 or 7 chips)
4 thin slices prosciutto, thinly sliced
5 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 stalks asparagus, woody stems removed and cut into small pieces
1 medium shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
4 to 5 sprigs cilantro, leaves removed and chopped fine
Preparing to cook. Preheat the oven to 450°.
Preparing the eggs. Whisk together the eggs, salt and pepper, and the smoked paprika.
Crush the potato chips into the eggs. Stir them lightly to coat the chips. Set aside until the chips have softened, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Preparing the prosciutto, asparagus, and shallots. Meanwhile, set a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the prosciutto slices and 1 teaspoon of the olive oil and cook until they have crisped up and released their fat, about 2 minutes. Remove the prosciutto and set aside. Cook the asparagus pieces in the prosciutto fat until they are vivid green and tender, about 2 minutes. Remove the asparagus and set aside.
Turn the heat down to medium. Pour in 2 teaspoons of the olive oil and add the shallot. Cook, stirring, until the shallot has started to brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the shallot and set aside to cool.
Stir the prosciutto slices, asparagus, and shallots into the egg mixture.
Cooking the tortilla. Pour the remaining olive oil into the skillet. When the oil moves around the pan easily, pour in the egg and potato chip mixture. Let it cook without touching it for 2 minutes, then shake the pan back and forth while running a spatula under the bottom of the tortilla.. If there is any runny egg, lift up the tortilla, tilt the pan, and let the runny part run to the bottom of the pan.
Slide the skillet into the oven. Cook until the top is firm, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Take the tortilla out of the oven. Allow it to cool. Eat.
Feeds 1 or 2.
(This might be a recipe for 1 person, but Danny and I split it happily without needing more food for lunch.)