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Cooking for one

April 20, 2009

by Ivan Raconteur

When I set out to make a sandwich this afternoon, I discovered that the bread was as dry as Arizona asphalt.

This reminded me that one of the things I have noticed since taking up residence in the new bachelor pad is that cooking for one is very different than cooking for more than one.

It doesn’t seem like it should make that much difference, but it does.

The first thing one learns is that some items are called “perishable” for a reason.

Take dairy products, for example. When one removes an item from the dairy case at the local grocery emporium, a clock starts ticking. Take too long to finish the product, and the results can be toxic.

This was a revelation to me. Having lived for many years with someone who consumed milk with great gusto, I was not accustomed to milk being around long enough to turn funny.

Now, I buy milk only in small containers, and hope for the best.

Going back to single life, one has to adjust one’s entire shopping strategy.

Buying things in bulk may seem economical, but the savings disappear if the things one buys turn funky before they can be used.

Fortunately, there are still some products that do not pose a problem.

I have never had a bottle of India pale ale go bad on me. By applying myself, I am able to rotate the stock at a pace that keeps it fresh and delicious.

Another treat for which I have a special weakness is cashews.

I confess that I can mow through a tin of cashews like a combine harvester going through a wheat field.

This defect in my character has resulted in my never having to worry about stale inventory in the cashew department.

Other items, such as fruit and vegetables, can be trickier.

When shopping for these items, I have learned that it is better to base my shopping forecast on hours, rather than days of consumption.

I have discovered that, unless I want to make banana bread or muffins a staple of my diet, it is better to buy a few bananas at a time, rather than a whole great bunch.

Life is complicated enough without the stress of trying to get to the end of a bunch of bananas before they turn to brown mush.

I have adapted my routine to shop more like a European than an American.

I now shop more often and purchase smaller quantities, and this seems to prevent any frightening science projects in the old ice box.

I can still save money by watching the sales, but I don’t stock up on anything unless it has a long shelf life.

Cooking for one can be a challenge.

The good news is that one can experiment and prepare whatever one likes without the risk of offending anyone or getting the stink eye.

On the other hand, there is no one to help use up the leftovers, and this should be taken into account when planning one’s menu.

One might be overcome by a craving for a particular dish, but that craving can fade quickly if one has to face the same meal three times a day for a week.

Some recipes can be scaled back, of course, but others cannot.

Suppose, for example, that you get a hankering for pie.

It is just not possible to make half a pie. I’ve tried it, and the filling just flops out.

Some of the dishes that I enjoy don’t lend themselves to cooking in small portions.

This means making more than one needs. Some leftovers can be frozen, but this is not without pitfalls, either.

I now understand what life must have been like for my dear departed mother.

My siblings and I sometimes joked in later years about playing “freezer roulette” when we visited Ma.

She always wanted to feed us, and would dig through her freezer to see what she had on hand.

There was a chance that we might score something delicious from among the array of unmarked aluminum-clad parcels.

On the other hand, there was also a chance that we might end up with some unidentifiable substance that looked as if it had been hacked from the permafrost somewhere north of the Arctic Circle.

The risk was all part of the fun.

Looking back, I now understand that after years of cooking for a house full of dedicated trenchermen, it must have been difficult for Ma to scale back her cooking when she was on her own.

I never thought much about it at the time, but now I realize that she loved cooking for others, and preparing a meal for us was one of the things that gave her pleasure.

We should have given her the opportunity more often.

Shopping for one and cooking for one can be fun, but there are times when it is nice to have someone with whom to share the joy.