There was a time when five of us lived in our little suburban cottage (it’s an unremarkable two-storey house roughly the shape of a cube, but technically it’s a cottage and the word has a nice, homey sound). As the years went by, Lewises ventured out into the world one by one to discover their lives, until at last there was only one of us left—me.
In the earliest days, my wife and I shared unevenly the task of preparing meals. She was much better at it than I and much, much faster, and so, to ensure that we ate things we could stomach and at a reasonable hour, she did most of the cooking. As the children joined us, we decided that, for us, the most sensible arrangement was one stay-at-home parent and one working parent. I got the latter job, and it therefore made sense that Mum almost always made supper.
One day, my wife slipped on the stairs and hurt her back badly enough that for quite some time afterward she spent a lot of her days in bed. Dad was suddenly promoted to Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, a step up in the world that meant I had to become a better cook—and “better” meant not simply more adept at preparing boxes of macaroni and cheese. It meant learning to prepare real meals using food that didn’t come in a box. The first major step towards culinary competence was moving on to tuna casseroles—made by adding cream of mushroom (or, for variety, cream of chicken) soup and tuna to boxes of mac and cheese. Dinner no longer came in boxes: it came in boxes and tins. Boiling and stirring became boiling, stirring, and baking. I was on my way.
In time, I added slicing, chopping, dicing, and even searing and braising, and managed to become able to cope in the kitchen, getting (relatively) faster and discovering new recipes. I’d like to say that I learned to take pleasure in the process of preparing food, in losing myself in the almost meditative repetition and ritual, but the truth is that my mind wanders
and things go wrong now and then—boil over, burn, blow up...(okay, I haven’t had that last one happen yet). No, the real joy of cooking for me is the joy of feeding those you love and perhaps even giving them pleasure. As I mentioned, though, there came a time when I was living alone, and that meant that the only person for whom I was cooking was me. The cooking itself gave me no great pleasure—it became a chore, in fact—and even if the dish I prepared was appealing, it was a lot less appealing by the time I’d finished preparing it. Cooking for one, I decided, is no fun.
My younger son is at home again—for a time—and has discovered that he likes to cook. He’s becoming very good at it, and his beloved is a whiz in the kitchen. Between them, they’ve reminded me that food prepared by someone else is much tastier than food prepared by me. So, dear readers, before I’m once again left to my own devices, what is the secret of cooking for one? What are the tricks I don’t know? What are your kitchen coping mechanisms? I suspect I’m not the only one who could use a few suggestions.
Murray Lewis, Editor-in-Chief
Photo: Laurence Labat.