A Table for One

Yesterday was my 39th birthday. If you knew me in real life, you would chastise – Branwen, you told me you were 39 last year. Scout’s honor, I really am 39 this year. Due to an embarrassing miscalculation, I lived most of the previous year thinking I was older than I truly was. I only do math for a living; don’t judge.

To revel in the fact that I still have a year left to be thirty-something, I splurged on a ridiculously priced piece of grass fed beef and a modest bottle of merlot. Ok, the steak was pricier than the wine, but don’t get me started on the boutique pricing of local, sustainable, Organic food. You don’t have that kind of time.

The point to this little aside is that it got me thinking about the kitchen challenges of the newly single. When I moved into my rental, this is what my icebox looked like.


Really, that’s the actual photo of my refrigerator that I took with my phone. I moved in on a Sunday and by the time the boxes were stacked and the furniture in place, I was too exhausted, physically and emotionally, to care about food. I collapsed on an unmade bed and slept like the dearly departed.

The next day I embarked on a food quest. Here’s the rub, I used to own a farm. Pastured beef, pork, lamb, rabbit, and chicken; the freezer was always bursting with meats that I was secure in the knowledge of how they were raised and processed. Procuring veg entailed simply waltzing to the gardens and plucking sun warmed tomatoes for a salad. My produce was always at peak perfection, since its travel time to the table was less than 3 minutes flat. Six if I got sidetracked by the desire to pull a few weeds or pet the cat. In the winter there were tidy rows of canned vegetables, pickles, jellies and jams preserved from the summer’s bounty. Sure, I occasioned the grocery store, but I secured things like toothpaste and toilet paper. Navigating the frozen food aisle was a foreign concept for me.

Alas, a girl can’t live on water and beer alone, so I set off for the Piggly Wiggly. (Sadly, we don’t actually have a local Piggly Wiggly, but I just think that’s an exquisitely fitting name for grocery store!) Up and down the rows I traversed, pushing a squeaky wheeled cart. Bread, milk, fresh vegetables. Check. Subscribing to a firm “if I don’t buy it, I can’t eat it” policy, I avoided the death traps of packaged foods, soda, sweets and empty calories. Realizing I needed some staples, I popped salt, butter, flour, sugar, pasta and rice in the basket as well. I spent what seemed like a small fortune in groceries that day, but felt good about my purchases.

Here’s a little of what I’ve since learned.

  • I can neither eat an entire loaf of bread before it turns spotty, nor drink a ½ gallon of milk before it coagulates into a lumpy, soured mass.
  • When you are cooking for yourself, do not buy any fresh foods labeled “family size.” I don’t care if you adore spinach. It is going to go bad, and I’m not talking Robin Hood delinquent, it’s more like Hannibal Lecter depraved.  Rotten greens have an odor that even the most aggressive Yankee candle can’t mask. You have been officially warned.
  • Tupperware and freezer bags are your friend. Recipes are rarely designed with the lonely hearted in mind. I for one draw the culinary line at eating the same leftovers four nights in a row. After three months of living solo, I have a freezer full of individually portioned meals for nights when I just don’t feel like cooking.
  • Speaking of lazy nights. I’m grown up. If I want to have cheese and crackers for dinner, perhaps accompanied by a glass (or three) of a nice shiraz, SO BE IT. Far fewer calories than a “value meal” and infinitely tastier.

One of the biggest kitchen adjustments is realizing that far more than half of the things I used to own, no longer live with me. (This holds true for movies, books, and a variety of other assorted material goods.) It is inevitable that at least once a week I’ll realize that I am missing a crucial spice or seasoning for the recipe I want to try. There are a myriad of everyday objects that I forget I don’t simply have tucked away in a drawer. I’ve taken for granted that they have been available on a whim for the past 14 years… I spent several weeks without a vegetable peeler and I still don’t have a whisk. My mother resupplied me with a stick blender, toaster, wine opener, crockpot and a few other household items. She claims that they were all “extras”, but I have a sneaking suspicion she shopped before arriving.

The bottom line is that, eating, or more specifically cooking, for one requires a learning curve. However, there are some silver linings. There is nothing, absolutely nothing on my menu plan that I don’t like. That, in and of itself, is golden!

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