After my separation, I had to learn to appreciate cooking only for myself.
I grabbed my jeans and put one leg in. Hmmm, tight. The other leg. Same thing. Oh, right: fresh from the dryer, no wonder. But despite that being true, they were in fact too tight to even zip. Perhaps that bag of potato chips for dinner the night before was not my best idea. So off with the jeans and into some sweats. Today was a new day and I promised myself I would eat better. Let’s hope, because I’d made that promise before, more than once.
Lately, there had been many days when I couldn’t even remember what I ate. Or more important, how much. And when you eat in your sweats with no one watching except a 100-pound Labrador retriever, chances are you’re going to get fat. And I did.
I’d been on a roller coaster of bad eating since my separation several months before, but that day as I struggled to get into my jeans, the proverbial light bulb went off. When I stopped to think about it, I couldn’t even remember the last time I had made dinner for myself. I hadn’t seen my pots and pans for what seemed like months.
How had I let this happen? I loved to cook.
But the truth was that the produce aisle had been replaced with the junk food aisle, and I was on a first-name basis with the Chinese-food delivery woman. Not only was I eating poorly, I also felt lousy. I needed to start cooking again. And I needed to eat better.
What I began to realize was just how much I missed cooking. Especially cooking for someone. Being alone and cooking for myself didn’t seem as appealing. But why should I be deprived of something I enjoyed so much?
I longed to smell onions and garlic sauteing happily together in a pan of extra-virgin olive oil. I missed my ritual of nibbling on a piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano while sipping a glass of wine as I prepared dinner. But what I missed most was the comfort of being in the kitchen.
With renewed motivation to eat better, I headed for my cookbooks, looking for inspiration, when out of the corner of my eye I saw my late mother’s recipe box. Perfect. This was just what I needed. I lifted the lid and began looking inside. I got lost in the box for hours, unfolding old magazine clippings and relishing every piece of paper with my mother’s handwriting on it. I suddenly felt like a kid again, sitting alongside my mother in the kitchen. This was just the inspiration I needed to get myself back on track. I slowly closed the box, recipes in hand.
As a kid my favorite meal was London broil, twice-baked potatoes, and green bean casserole. My mother made it for me every time I had something to celebrate (a tradition that continued well into my college days), so it seemed the perfect choice for me to get started again. I was suddenly inspired to cook, and it felt good. It was a feeling I hadn’t had in months.
As I prepared the marinade for the meat, I thought about my mother and how I wished she were in the kitchen with me. She had taught me the basics of cooking and how to make a meal special. And her recipes had given me the inspiration I needed that day to get on with my life.
I now cook more than I’ve ever cooked before, and I enjoy every meal I make for myself. What I’ve learned is to make myself a good, healthy meal each and every day and use the best ingredients I can. I shop often and use fresh, local foods for my daily inspiration. I eat at the table (never over the sink!) and make everything look beautiful before I eat it. I use my favorite dishes, drink from nice wineglasses, and treat myself like I would a guest in my home. I make it special for me, because the most important thing I’ve learned is that I deserve it.
But I still miss my delivery woman . . . just a little bit.
Karen J. Covey is a writer and the founder of the website Gourmet Recipes for One. She grew up in the restaurant and catering business in southern Vermont and now lives in Mattapoisett. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Story ideas: Send yours to email@example.com. Please note: We do not respond to ideas we will not pursue.