When author Klancy Miller was attending culinary school in Paris, she came down with a bad cold and yearned for a bowl of old-fashioned chicken noodle soup. A single woman who lived alone, she realized she’d need to make it for herself.
The incident set Miller on a path that ultimately led to her first book, Cooking Solo: The Joy of Cooking For Yourself, which is full of bright, easy-to-prepare dishes for singles to make for themselves, their friends, and their romantic interests. Miller recently spoke with me about what she loves about cooking alone, how a novice can get started, and why a good rib eye can change your outlook on life.
Why did you decide to write this book?
I had always cooked for myself, for my family, for special occasions, etc., and my parents suggested I write a cookbook because I have so many recipes. Then I read an article about Eric Klinenberg’s book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. He talks about how single people are now outnumbering married people, how there have never been as many single people as there are now, and the fact that it’s not just a trend in the U.S.—it’s global. That was exciting to me and I thought, Single people need a cookbook! Most cookbooks serve four or six or more, and I thought, We should have a cookbook that is more representative of what it’s like to cook for yourself.
Many people say that cooking for yourself is too much work—with all the pots, pans, cleanup, etc. What’s your response to that?
I don’t think everyone should be cooking all the time. That’s why restaurants exist. But if you have the energy, it’s a nice treat. I see it as a meditative act; it’s also very practical. It makes me a little sad when people say ‘It’s just me. Why should I do it?’ I think we all deserve nice experiences.
If you’re not used to cooking for yourself, or at all, what’s the best way to start?
Start simple. Don’t dive into Beef Bourguignon. In my book, there is a recipe for a Curried Tomato Omelet and a salad, which is a perfectly fine, breakfast, lunch or dinner. In any cookbook, you can peruse the list of ingredients. If there are under ten ingredients, chances are it’s probably going to be a pretty simple recipe. It doesn’t have to be a major masterpiece. It can be avocado on toast or grilled sardines. If you have good food, you can make something really simple and delicious without much effort.
When you made that chicken soup for yourself in Paris, you were really taking care of yourself. Is that part of what you like about cooking alone?
Yes. I’m very slow in the kitchen. I take my time and that can be very enjoyable. I like the process of, on the one hand, being present while I’m preparing a meal but also working through some thought or problem. Also, I like knowing what I’m putting in my food. That’s the big difference between cooking for yourself and going to a restaurant. I love going to restaurants, but you will never necessarily know what’s in your food. The way I feel after eating out at restaurants several days a week is different from when I cook for myself several times a week.
There are times when I have cheered myself up over a meal. I have a recipe in the book for a Mood-Boosting Rib Eye, which I made for myself on a Valentine’s Day. I have been single and coupled on Valentine’s Days, and I usually don’t care about it, but about four years ago, for whatever reason, I was really bummed that I was single. So I went out of my way to make a really luxurious meal for myself. I was living on the Upper West Side [of Manhattan] and went to Fleisher’s in Brooklyn and got a luscious rib eye and they told me how to cook it. Then I went to Little Italy and got an awesome bottle of Italian wine. I felt like I had attained a certain level of bliss by the time I finished the meal—it was so good. And I was really able to laugh about my feeling down because I was single.
What’s the difference between cooking for yourself and cooking for others?
When you cook for yourself, there’s no pressure. If you make a total mess of things, no one has to know. There’s also no compromise. If the person you’re dating or everyone in your family is gluten-free and you’re not, you can go to town on the pasta.
It’s also great practice for cooking for others. Because I cook for myself on a regular basis, I’m not nervous to cook for other people. When you know what you’re doing and have a few recipes that you’re good at, you can then give them to others.
Like someone you’re dating?
It’s a very nice thing to do with a date or romantic interest. I remember reading a column about the 36 questions to fall in love, and I thought, People just need to have more in-depth conversations or be in places where it’s possible to make more of a connection. In general, cooking a meal for or with someone is a very intimate experience. I think it can be a really good way to get to know someone, and it’s a generous act to offer a home-cooked meal. And it’s really fun!
Sara Eckel is a personal coach and the author of It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single. You can get a free bonus chapter of her book at saraeckel.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Ask her any questions here.