Cooking Alone

What I like about eggs is making them. A single egg, cracked over a hot skillet, a minute thirty on the first side, a minute on the flip. What I dislike about eggs is eating them. They’re uninspired. Still plain, in spite of my efforts, dressing it with kale, tomatoes, and garlic from my own garden. But simple. And unlike my homey carb-seeking impulse for muffins or zucchini bread for breakfast, I can eat it one setting. I plan my muffin baking around potlucks–or commit to eating four a day in order to finish them. Such suffering is life.

As I approached the one year anniversary of my Simply Seasoned Challenge–to finish the remaining three-quarters of the book’s recipes in three years–I indulged my compulsive perfectionist and counted what percent of the book I’d completed. It should have been roundly 50%. I’ve since deliberately forgotten the exact number, but it was crawling toward 46%. That left me about an extra 14 recipes to fit into the coming year, in addition to this year’s 50 recipes.

10-8-potatoes-carrots-pesto

Have you tried to eat a whole recipe of Oven Fries by yourself? I have. (Fail)

Why the failure? Skimming through the unmade summer recipes, I searched for where I’d gone wrong, quickly discovering the obvious: I was single. I’d kept a steady pace through the fall while I dated and dropped off in the spring when my relationship had–telling myself, at the time, that it was because the rhubarb and carrot thinnings came up so slowly (which is equally true). Cooking for and with someone gave me incentive. Cooking alone gave me a strong urge for a second glass of wine.

Even in the height of summer abundance, when I was eager to cook everything, I may have had 6 pounds of tomatoes, but only one stomach. After months of salivating, I gave in (and ate) all four of the Eggplant Burgers the recipe yielded (and, yum!). But I couldn’t justify making the double-recipe-serves-18 Italian zucchini pie. At one point in September, for reasons that were entirely my own fault, I had thirty ripe pears (what was I supposed to do, I was foraging, after a tip from someone in the congregation, no less).

Keeping up with Simply Seasoned has meant cajoling roommates to eat my leftovers (Gingered Kale + Tofu and Spicy Roasted Eggplant = winners). I’ve arm-twisted teenagers into Pear Custard Bars–which, the handful who braved the task admitted, were pretty good. More than one church family who asked for a meal has received a fresh, untested soup or side dish in pursuit of my goal. Occasionally, I foist a slice of pie onto the baristas who slip me free drinks at my favorite coffee shop (Grape Pie has not let me down yet).

Cookbooks aren’t made for single people. They’re made for communities. The cooking is creative, but the eating has forced equal creatively. In the past year, I’ve shaped the community around my meals, which in turn are shaped around the seasons–which is exactly what Simply in Season set out to do.

simply-seasoned-fall

Lettuce is my least favorite vegetable. It only comes in 12-person packages.

It can be exhausting, constantly calling people to you. Singleness can be exhausting, and intensely lonely. But marriage isn’t a cake walk, either.

I was surprised to realize being single might be an obstacle to my goal–or at least, an undisciplining factor. Being single rarely stops me from anything–going out to eat, seeing a show, even going to church. Why should it limit my eating? But it does.

I remind myself that singleness is complex and interwoven with other aspects of my identity. Ironically, the thing that makes it easy to follow the seasons–my effusive suburban garden–is one of the things that makes dating difficult. (You think dating is hard in the city? Move to the suburbs for six months.) It’s a long yo-yo string and on good days I reassure myself that I would have emotional swings regardless. On bad days I begrudge the world everything and avoid everyone while trying to convince them I’m not avoiding them. I wish I had a better solution. But I don’t. Sometimes singleness takes a toll.

I wasn’t sure what to do with my new discovery at first. I didn’t like the answer that it pointed to. Be kind to yourself if you fail, it suggested. It sounds unnecessarily merciful. It sounds difficult. More difficult than my usual approach: just put my head to the grindstone and crank out four recipes a week to make the deadline. But the goal was always supposed to be the journey, not the destination.

I’m not ready to be kind yet. I remain a perfectionist in my goal, to cook the whole book in two more years. I remain committed to the American values of hard work and discipline (that’s straight from the Bible, right?). But I am beginning to see the danger of sticking to one’s goals. Perhaps, a year from now, I will have learned to be kind to myself if I fail. Perhaps I won’t be so quick to call it failure.

green-tomatoes

Now, who is going to eat these green tomatoes…

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