Cooking for one: why you’re worth it

I read a story over the summer about a woman who stopped cooking when she left her husband.

“I stopped cooking because I wanted to feel as unencumbered as a man walking through the door of his home with the expectation that something (everything) had been done for him,” writer Lyn Lenz explained.

Eating alone can be a joyous experience: you’re worth it.  Credit:Shutterstock

“I wanted to be free of cutting coupons and rolling dough and worrying about dinner times and feeding. I wanted to rest. To be just like him and sit with the kids and play. I wanted to lie on the couch and watch Curious George and snuggle tiny arms, tiny hands. I wanted to watch TV or order in. Or forget dinner and have popcorn instead. So I did.”

I remember that phase. When it was all too much. When I lived on Diet Coke and apples in the weeks I was on my own. When I just functioned when I had the kids, turning out the same six or so meals I could cook without anything thought or much effort.

But recently things have changed. I’m starting to believe, again, that I am worth making an effort for, that I deserve a lovely meal, that cooking well for myself is a symbol of self-love and self-care.

I am worthy of nice cutlery, of beautiful textured plates, of music at dinner rather than the cackle of the television, yet if I choose, nothing tastes better than a spicy bowl of curry on the lounge in front of a bad reality show, or the Big Bash. I could eat dinner with Shane Watson any night of the week.

Nigella Lawson enjoys cooking for herself and her pea risotto is an easy meal for one.

Yet I do miss cooking for people. For adults. While I love feeding my children, weekly school night dinners can become more about fuel than food. Dinners to get on the table quickly, to satiate them, to comfort them after school and sports. Our family dinners are mostly at the table. It’s more about the conversation, about finding time for each other in their increasingly busy lives.

Still, nothing brings me more pleasure than when they compliment me on a meal. In some way recognising that I’m expressing my love through food. I outdid myself with Christmas dinner, they said, and that comment alone was the best present I received.

But when it comes to cooking for myself, things change. Home from work to an empty house, it’s tempting to open a bottle of wine and find some cheese. How very French, perhaps, but how very sad.

In How to Eat, Nigella Lawson, who’s in Canberra on February 4, talks about cooking for one.

“Most people can’t help finding something embarrassingly onanistic [and if you’re wondering why she uses that word you’ll have to read the full intro] about taking pleasure in eating alone,” she writes.

A River Cottage Lamb and mint couscous is a great way to use up your leftovers.

She enjoys cooking for herself, she writes, using it as a chance to cook what she wants to eat, shopping for what she wants, trying new things. She admits, too, to sometimes opening a can of tomato soup or just enjoying copious cheese with crusty fresh bread.

Her Sunday night chicken noodles is a good way to clear the week’s wilting greens out of the fridge, her carbonara comforting if you’re a little sad the children are gone again, her pea risotto on high rotation.

Indeed, risotto has become something of my self-love meal. No one in my family likes it. I adore it. So when I had the opportunity to cook what I wanted to eat without thinking about the tastes of others, finally I cooked with onion and garlic and oily fish, food I love.

The night I googled risotto for one was quite liberating. It was the whole act of making a risotto, the stirring, the process, the time.

I realised I was worth it.

And I’m worth lamb shanks too. Worth the time it takes to slow cook meat. Nigel Slater is a regular dinner companion. His compact Eat: The little book of fast food is full of recipes, mainly for two. Lamb shanks with crushed roots, in the oven for a couple of hours, enables me to run a bath or go for a walk. Two shanks, a bunch of thyme, parsnips and carrots.

I sometimes wish I had someone to share the extra shank with. Cooking for one can sometimes lead you to eating for two. A story during the week noted that eating with others can lower your stress. Depends who the others are, I suppose.

So now I bring the leftovers to work for lunch, or reimagine them. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall comes to the table with his Love Your Leftovers, the extra shank becomes lamb and mint couscous (another thing I can now eat) or it gets tossed into a spicy lamb and chickpea dish.

Lyn Lenz stopped cooking because she was tired.

I’ve started cooking again because I was tired. Tired of not treating myself right.

I am worth a delicious meal. Because I am delicious.

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