Jessica Leigh Hester is a former senior associate editor at CityLab, covering environment and culture. Her work also appears in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Times, Modern Farmer, Village Voice, Slate, BBC, NPR, and other outlets.
A new cookbook celebrates the act of dining solo.
In 2014, 34 million Americans aged 18 and older lived alone. Surely, not all of them will be solo dwellers forever; presumably, a substantial share have lived or will live with partners, or roommates, or shacked up with mom and dad. But it’s likely that, at least for a while, millions of people find themselves cooking for one.
That can be easier said than done, says the pastry chef Klancy Miller, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu. For one thing, despite the recent uptick in solo restaurant dining, and regardless of the success of meal-subscription services such as Blue Apron, which delivers pre-measured ingredients to a million homes each month, there’s still a stigma against spending time and energy on something that seems indulgent. Miller says that folks tend to feel guilty about investing energy in meal prep for one, shrugging it off as, Why bother? It’s just me. It can be a little anti-climactic to tear herbs into the perfect teensy pieces, or stir a from-scratch sauce, only to either scarf the meal down over the sink or sit quietly at the table, trying hard to think, This is great, everything’s great, this was totally worth it.
Taking the time to cook a great meal for yourself doesn’t have to earn a bad rep, Miller says: “It doesn’t have to be an arrogant, narcissistic thing.” And it doesn’t have to be pathetic, either, sad desk lunch be damned. Being a solo chef, she adds, is a low-stakes experiment: you’re not trying to impress anyone, and you can also be as dictatorial as you want to be. Your friends hate cilantro? They’re not around. More for you!
And then there’s the more material concern: the ratio of food to mouths. Most cookbooks, Miller says, cater to larger groups of people. The default serving size is often four or six, meaning that if you’re dining solo, you’d have to perform mental calisthenics to adapt the recipe for a smaller portion or face a daunting mountain of leftovers. And if you don’t ever get around to eating them, those leftovers can join the 35 million tons of wasted food that Americans discard each year—a problem that’s both economic and environmental.
So Miller decided to make a cookbook that plays to single urbanites like herself. Cooking Solo: The Joy of Cooking for Yourself (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $20), out this month, is devoted to meals for one. The book has 100 recipes; Miller shared three with CityLab. Some of the dishes—like the five-ingredient omelet, below—take just a few minutes to throw together. Others, such as the roasted chicken, are a little more labor-intensive, but can help set you up for the week ahead. You can cook the whole bird in one fell swoop, and save the portions you don’t eat for soup or chicken tacos another night. You could even share them—but you definitely don’t have to.
Shaved Zucchini Salad
Cooking Solo: The Joy of Cooking for Yourself, $20 at Amazon