Find­ing the joy in cook­ing for one

The Tribune (SLO) (Sunday) - - Living - BY TE­JAL RAO

Cook­book cov­ers can be like op­ti­cal il­lu­sions. Take “Mi­crowave Cook­ing for One,” which fea­tures the author, Marie T. Smith, alone with some plat­ters of color-sat­u­rated food. Some read­ers may see des­o­la­tion and gloom be­hind her smile. Some, a dusty meme. But oth­ers see a tri­umphant model of prac­ti­cal­ity and self-care.

The chef Anita Lo was aware of these po­lar­i­ties when she wrote “Solo: A Mod­ern Cook­book for a Party of One,” a book cel­e­brat­ing the sim­ple act of cook­ing for your­self, and only your­self, that will be pub­lished by Knopf this month. Her recipes are tai­lored to feed one and, in most cases, the steps are min­i­mal and re­quire few pots and pans.

In other words, it’s a cook­book that speaks di­rectly to a grow­ing pro­por­tion of sin­gle Amer­i­cans, with strate­gic, small-por­tion recipes, and tips for shop­ping, stock­ing the pantry and stor­ing food in a sin­gle-per­son house­hold.

Lo first landed on the project af­ter a brain­storm­ing ses­sion of funny cook­book ti­tles with her name in it (in­clud­ing the re­jected “Lo Cal”). “I orig­i­nally told my pub­lish­ers that the cover should be me and my cat,” Lo said. “But they thought it was too sad.” In­stead, the cover is a cheer­ful il­lus­tra­tion by Ju­lia Roth­man, whose line draw­ings fill the com­pact book’s pages.

Lo’s book is part of a far-reach­ing canon of cook­ing for one. Nigella Law­son has writ­ten about her “soli­tary in­dul­gences,” as have James Beard and M.F.K. Fisher. The ed­i­tor Ju­dith Jones wrote a pi­o­neer­ing text in the genre called “The Plea­sures of Cook­ing for One,” pub­lished in 2009.

Jones took a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally pre­cise ap­proach to cook­ing for her­self, but other cooks de­scribe the task as a form of daily self-care. There are plenty of other ben­e­fits, too. They note how fla­vors and tex­tures can of­ten be­come more de­li­cious be­cause they’re work­ing with such small quan­ti­ties, and how lit­tle to no food can be wasted.

Al­though Lo read Jones’ book and ap­pre­ci­ated her ap­proach, she found the recipes – from blue­berry soup to blan­quette de veau – some­what dated. Lo, who grew up in Michi­gan and ran her West Vil­lage restau­rant An­nisa for 17 years be­fore it closed last year, care­fully stocks her own kitchen with kim­chi, tahini and dried an­chovies.

A touch of any of these in­gre­di­ents can change the di­rec­tion of a dish. Take Lo’s recipe for pan­roasted cauliflower, which re­lies on a store-bought spice mix – tangy with dried mango and black salt – to ef­fort­lessly turn the veg­etable into a quick, South Asian-style chaat.

The cauliflower is bro­ken into flo­rets and browned in a saucepan (an im­pos­si­ble task when cook­ing a large amount), then sea­soned with a sauce of cilantro, yo­gurt and green chiles. To make the gar­nish, Lo warms chopped al­monds in the toaster oven, which she con­sid­ers a valu­able and ver­sa­tile tool in any small, ef­fi­cient kitchen.

In her book, Jones wrote that “the se­cret of mak­ing cook­ing for one fun and cre­ative is not to think of a meal as self-con­tained but to un­der­stand that home cook­ing is an on­go­ing process, one dish lead­ing to an­other.” This is dis­tinct from left­overs, warmed up as they are.

Lo builds on the beauty of that idea, us­ing the raw cauliflower scraps left over from pre­par­ing her chaat to start a new dish by pick­ling them, al­ways min­i­miz­ing waste and max­i­miz­ing cre­ativ­ity.

To pre­serve veg­eta­bles when cook­ing in small amounts, Lo cuts them with care. “If you’re cut­ting an onion, you cut it from the growth side, not the root side,” she said. “And you leave the brown pa­per skin on so it holds the mois­ture. Then you cut off what you’re go­ing to use and only peel and chop that part.”

From shop­ping to prep­ping to eat­ing, cook­ing for one re­quires more ef­fi­ciency to avoid waste or a moun­tain of left­overs.

“I think a lot of learn­ing to cook for your­self is about por­tions and just mak­ing sure you’re cook­ing the amount you’re go­ing to eat,” Lo added.

Eric Kim, an ed­i­tor at the web­site Food52, finds him­self in his apart­ment kitchen in New York al­most ev­ery night, af­ter he gets home late from af­ter­work drinks with friends. “I cook with a lot of in­ten­tion,” he said. “There’s so much plea­sure in not hav­ing any­thing left over and in eat­ing some­thing new each time.”

He re­cently wrote about the sat­is­fac­tion of cook­ing ex­actly one por­tion of risotto for him­self and eat­ing it in bed, us­ing the same wooden spoon that he cooked it with. Af­ter­ward, he re­ceived di­rect mes­sages on In­sta­gram from read­ers who were mak­ing the dish just for them­selves, send­ing him pho­tos and notes of their lux­u­ri­ous solo din­ners.

“Peo­ple want more recipes for one,” said Kim, who usu­ally pours him­self a glass of wine and plays an episode of the Net­flix show “Bo­Jack Horse­man” on his lap­top while he cooks.

“Cook­ing for my­self is part of my rit­ual,” he said. “It keeps me sane.”

Kim also be­lieves that cook­ing on a smaller scale hap­pens to yield more de­li­cious food. “I think it’s a vol­ume sit­u­a­tion,” he said. “If you’re mak­ing a huge batch, it’s hard to make it taste the way you want.”

The author Klancy Miller leads classes teach­ing peo­ple how to cook for them­selves and helped found a book club at the Brook­lyn lo­ca­tion of the Wing, a co-work­ing space for women. In her first cook­book, “Cook­ing Solo: The Fun of Cook­ing for Your­self,” Miller cham­pi­ons cook­ing as an act of self-care.

“It’s a way to nur­ture your­self and nour­ish your­self,” Miller said.

Miller’s ap­proach is


Anita Lo’s cauliflower chaat recipe. Lo, who ran An­nisa in the West Vil­lage for 17 years, has writ­ten a joy­ful, prac­ti­cal cook­book about cook­ing for one called “Solo: A Mod­ern Cook­book for a Party of One,” that will be pub­lished by Knopf this month.

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