Table for one

For Simon Thibault, learning to live alone has meant a big change in how he sees mealtime.

If you were to come into my kitchen last night, you would have found a lone pot filled with potatoes on the stove. They’ll be for dinner tomorrow.
You see, these days, I am kind of like that pot: alone at the stove. It used to be that I was cooking for more than just myself. For years, I cooked for a significant other, who then became less-than-significant. Then, for about a year, I cooked for a couple of housemates. But about two months ago, my cooking ratios dwindled to focus on one.
Damn you Harry Nilsson, one is not the loneliest number. It’s the number that can cook any way that it wants to.IMG_3138-web
People often see cooking for one as a pain, a drag. The preparing of food is often viewed as a communal thing, an act of sharing. A single person doesn’t have anyone to share a freezer full of frozen entrées. “Single portion” indeed. Recipes in cookbooks provide enough food for a family of four. Follow them, and you end up eating couscous by yourself for three days.
The kitchen is the first thing that you see when you open the door to my apartment. The kitchen likes to pretend that it is separate from my living room, but I’d argue that it’s just a little insecure: It has a lovely fridge, stove, sink, a few cupboards, and a granite-covered banquette. The floor is tiled and slightly elevated, to remind you that the living room, with its hardwood floors, is a separate entity. Even though they occupy the same space.
At first glance, this might seem awkward. Utilitarian, even. But this is the kitchen where I have felt the most comfortable in a long time.
I haven’t had a kitchen of my own for years. I am no longer bound to making food for others. I am here to make food for myself: the solo diner.
Being alone has taught me to slow down with my food. Not only in the eating of it, but in the making of it. There is something to be said for the elongation of a meal, from execution to mastication. Today, I found myself with a slightly overripe melon and slightly underripe peaches. They were cut into pieces, and sparingly sprinkled with sugar. The bowl went into the refrigerator to give the sugar time to coax the fruit into releasing its juices.
When I go to the fridge for a quick snack, spoon in hand, I spot a tub of almost forgotten plain yogurt in the back. Both of them come out, and although I sneak a spoonful of the now-sweetened fruit, the rest goes into the yogurt, left to macerate for an hour or so.
Delayed gratification leads to better meals, or snacks in this case.
I also slowed myself down during the act of eating. I work from home, and my kitchen table is my desk. In an office setting, people often eat their lunches at their desks. But I don’t eat at the kitchen table. I make a point of sitting to eat at the little banquette. This is a place and a time for eating. To savour.
To savour means to understand, and even contemplate. And it’s hard to contemplate when there is a lot of noise on your plate. My
slowing down has changed the way I cook certain foods. My refrigerator is full of condiments, and I’ve become judicious in their use. I’m interested in tasting the ingredients I am cooking, not blasting them into a soy and chile laced oblivion. Cooking up a few snow peas? Just a salt and oil, thank you. A little pepper when it’s ready to serve. It’s all it needs.
All I need is in this tiny kitchen. The cookbooks are within arm’s reach. The cupboards are filled with staples. My cast iron skillet is well seasoned. And so am I. Excuse me, while I go and warm it up. There are potatoes that need frying.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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