pleasures of cooking for one

Sometimes working in a public place is a blessing. I get to run into folks who I haven’t seen in a long time. When I need a hook-up on a location to get married, five people with amazing properties walk through the door in one day. The belt buckle my mother gave me that has been broken for years gets fixed by a metal-working customer. I love the people I encounter at Pendl’s.

Sometimes though, working in a public place can be a curse…especially when the editors of the newspaper work next door. In the past week, both Hope and Jeannette waltzed into the bakery to get a java fix and hounded me, “When’s the next Single Chef?” To be honest, I had lost track of weeks. I was in fact due for a new article. The problem, I am doing my annual spring cleanse. Jeannette suggested I write about cleansing. I assured her that no one wanted to hear about my diet of rice, vegetables and fruit. Instead I had the genius idea to write a book review.

When I first started writing articles for the Valley Citizen newspaper, it was because I wanted to write a cookbook on how to cook for one. The books I had seen out there seemed outdated. None of them were “sexy.” And let me tell you, I love a good looking cookbook. Color photos… interesting sidebars…a good cookbook to me is like good literature. Then, one day as I checked my yahoo email account, an advertisement on the side of the screen caused me to curse. “Coming September 22, 2009, The Pleasures of Cooking for One, by Judith Jones.” (Knopf, $27.95) I had been beaten to the punch by one of the most powerful editors in the cookbook industry.

For those of you who saw the movie, Julie and Julia or were lucky enough to read Julia Child’s memoir My Life in France, the name Judith Jones will ring a bell. She was the woman who forced her editor at Knopf publishing house to pay attention to Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volume 1. In turn, we can say that she was the one who first brought Julia Child to American households. If you want to go even further, she helped bring gourmet food into average American kitchens.

When Judith Jones’ husband passed away, she thought that cooking was something that might be lost to her. She discovered that she was wrong and learned that cooking each day was a way of honoring herself. Jones and I share many of the same beliefs about solo cooking. You can be as creative as you like, and only have yourself to please. Splurging every now and again on a nice piece of meat of fish is possible because it sure is cheaper than going out to dinner. There is a pleasure in creating a fabulous dish and getting to enjoy it.

The Pleasures of Cooking for One is a gorgeous cookbook with 33 color and black and white photos and chapters on soup; eggs and cheese; vegetables and sauces; rice, pasta, grains and legumes; and breads, sweets and preserves. Jones’ recipes are simple to understand and many of them have small ingredient lists. She believes that a cook must be flexible in the kitchen and her recipes reflect this. With variations for seasonal cooking or personal preference, Jones demonstrates her philosophy that one must only please themselves in the kitchen.

One way in which Jones and I differ is her belief in the use of second and third helpings (i.e. leftovers). While I find that I have a tendency to go with my tastes each day, and thus end up at the grocery store daily, Jones enjoys planning out her week’s meals in advance. She will buy a pork tenderloin which becomes pork scaloppini first, then gets added to a stir fry and later into a hash. I, on the other hand, would go to the butcher and buy a boneless pork tenderloin chop so that I have enough for only one meal. These philosophies for planning and shopping are a personal preference. Neither is better than the other. Ok, Jones probably doesn’t have the nightly debate in her head of what in the world am I going to cook tonight, but what can I say? I have never been one for weekly planners. (God help me when I have a couple of kids).

Aside from our philosophical differences in shopping, Jones and I diverge in one more area…our audience. While I tend to lean towards recipes with a broad range of appeal and the possibility that a person is just learning to cook, Jones aims her recipes at folks who already enjoy preparing gourmet meals. The recipes also tend towards those with a certain palette. This book would have been perfect for my father and mother. They taught themselves to cook through Julia Child’s recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking and The Way To Cook. My mom made Beef Bourguignon at least once a winter and my father relished whipping up Béarnaise Sauce to drizzle over steamed asparagus. Jones includes the aforementioned recipes as well as those for kidney pie, calf’s liver and cassoulet, but I must point out she also includes recipes for skirt steak, grits and popovers.

For those of you out there who have been cooking for years and either have been forced to cook for one because of death, divorce or an empty nest, this book may be perfect for you. For the rest of us, hope is not lost. There are several fabulous simple recipes as well as a great section on stocking a pantry and essential equipment. And hey, if my parents learned to cook through Mastering the Art of French Cooking who’s to say you can’t learn to cook gourmet meals through The Pleasures of Cooking for One? So go ahead and flip through a copy of this book. If nothing else it will give you ideas of the many possibilities that are out there when cooking for one.