Cooking For One

Why cooking (and eating) on your own can be an enjoyable and quasi-spiritual experience.

There’s nothing shameful about eating a meal on your own. There’s nothing shameful about eating a meal on your own that’s supposed to serve two people. There’s nothing shameful about eating a meal on your own that’s supposed to serve four. There’s not even anything shameful about eating a meal on your own that’s meant to feed eight. But I must say that that’s mightily impressive.

February is a month that’s dominated by Valentine’s Day discourse and the pressure to couple up around this time of the year is high. Dipping your toe into the dating apps during this period of extremely high sexual tension is a lot like sticking your hand into a shark tank with a fistful of chum (i.e. it doesn’t come recommended unless you’re willing to get hurt). It’s difficult to be happy being yourself and comfortable in your own skin at the best of times but it’s even harder to initiate acts of self-love when you’re constantly being barraged by advertisements that make you feel like you’re somehow “less than” because you’re single. Unless that act of self-love is masturbation. Which is very easy to initiate when you're feeling lonely.

That feeling of isolation – and that misguided belief that love is something that everyone is entitled to rather than something you earn and build over time with another person – has a tendency to leak into the sorts of food we cook as well. We’re told that Valentine’s is an occasion for “romantic” food like oysters and lobsters and expensive cuts of steak; we’re told to avoid all the sorts of dishes that my mum still calls “not first date food”. But you know what? None of that actually means anything. A romantic meal should only be defined by what you personally get a kick out of and the thing that you enjoy eating the most. Not just something that you feel you should eat on the 14th because you once saw Fred Sirieux describe it as “ver-ée sex-ée”. If your idea of romance is a big plate of ribs and garlic bread, then power to you!

I know from personal experience that inspiring yourself to cook can be a lot harder when you’re single. It can sometimes feel as if there’s no point making something nice if you haven’t got someone you care about to enjoy that with. Well, the good news is that I also know from personal experience that that’s simply not true.

You are enough. And you deserve to have delicious food cooked for you each and every day. Even if that food is being cooked by you, for you. A lot of recipe websites, cookbooks, blogs do unfortunately tend to neglect the fact that a good chunk of the people out there are feeding (and fending for) themselves and nobody else.

We’ve been guilty of doing that here at Mob so I’d like to take this opportunity to say, once and for all, that you can and should cook any of our recipes that take your fancy regardless of how many people you’re catering for. If it serves four and you don’t want to feel too full, you can simply taper down the amount of each ingredient you use or cook the same amount and save some for leftovers after. Or you can do the approach I outlined in the first paragraph and just power your way through an entire chicken pie. I’ve done that once and I honestly wouldn’t recommend it. No human is meant to consume that much pastry in one sitting and doing that didn’t stop me from feeling sad about being single. If anything, it made me feel even sadder and I still can’t watch Chicken Run without getting depressed.

Cooking is an experience that it’s wonderful to share with another person but it can also be something that’s intensely personal. Some days I love cooking with my partner, bouncing around the kitchen to whatever's on Radio 4, whereas other days all I want to do is methodically peel and chop a dozen cloves of garlic by myself. Having those moments where the only thing you have to worry about is the ingredients list in front of you – and whether your pan is at a medium or medium-high heat – can be a much-needed break from the constant manic panic of the world around you. It’s also in those solipsistic moments where you can work on the most important relationship in your life: your relationship with yourself.

The next time you’re at the hob, try using it as an opportunity to do some mindful thinking. Use the moments where you’re slowly caramelising onions, letting their sweet aroma fill your lungs and dinky kitchen, to go through your day and be thankful for everything that you’ve achieved. Even if all you've done is finally reply to those emails you said you'd circle back to after Christmas.

There’s a zen to be found in making a meal, if you’re willing to seek it. Each dish that you make is an edible sand mandala – a gorgeous creation that you will inevitably enjoy and destroy. Embrace the process and use it to mull over the transitory nature of material life; look inwards at your own actions and emotions. Because if you’re not satisfied with your meal, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself.

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