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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Eating alone and liking it

In spite of friends, family, and eating out a lot, I eat supper alone several nights a week. I manage to avoid some of the obvious pitfalls, such as cereal for dinner or overeating. And I do try to be creative, so that fixing and eating supper is fun. Sometimes I carry my supper for one to the front porch and watch the world go by. But you learn that there are some things you just don’t cook for one—like sheet cake! Even if you froze it in single-serving portions, it would last forever and you’d get very tired of it.
I asked other friends what they do about eating alone. One claims that it’s because she won’t cook for herself and eats out that she can’t lose weight. Another said, “When I want meatloaf, I cook it and portion it out in the freezer.” I was telling still another friend that someone asked me what you did when you wanted a rhubarb pie. (Since I’ve never made a rhubarb pie in my life, it’s a moot point; my mom made them, but I don’t particularly like rhubarb.) Anyway, my friend said when she was divorced and single, she baked a rhubarb pie, ate the whole thing herself, and thought how wonderful it was not to have to share it!
Someone suggested that the freezer is a single person’s best friend, but I countered with: “Or your worst enemy.” If you freeze a lot of leftovers, you end up with stuff that you don’t want to eat but feel you should. Remember that your mom always told you, “Waste not, want not.” Freezing often doesn’t improve the quality of food—just the opposite. I admit that if I get a yen for sloppy Joe or tuna Florentine, I fix it and freeze it—but too often I throw away much of the leftovers.
I have a partial solution for that: buy a vacuum food saver. Remember the Save-a-Meal machines of the ’70s? They sealed food into a plastic bag so that you could freeze it. Trouble is, they left all that air in with the food, and eventually ice crystals formed on it—a sure sign the food is no good. The food saver draws the air out and essentially cryovacs the food. It’s great for saving meat—for instance, if you buy a pack of four chicken breasts and only cook one. Food-save the other three individually (the plastic comes in rolls, so you create the size bag you need). Save leftovers, or use the food saver to preserve that really good piece of cheese you bought for a dinner party but didn’t completely use. (Don’t freeze the cheese—just keeping air from it will keep that white mold from forming on it.) If you’re really smart about using this machine and have the accessories, you can save red wine in the bottle or put things in special jars. (I’m not that smart).
One word, though, about the freezer and food-saving: the airtight seal doesn’t last forever, so don’t leave leftovers too long, and keep an eye on them. I have two serving-size portions of lamb in the freezer as I write; the seal has broken down, and ice crystals are on the meat. I’ll probably pitch them, though right now I just keep eyeing them and choosing something else. (My mother used to think I was far too willing to pitch leftovers.)
Baked goods don’t work well in the machine—bread, for instance, gets squished because the machine draws air out of the bread as well as the bag. Bread freezes nicely in regular baggies, so you can keep a loaf for a long while. (My kids dispute this and want to refrigerate it, but I insist that it gets stale in the fridge.) When Megan bought a food saver, Brandon tried to “save” everything in the refrigerator. She reported that it was an absolute failure with scallions, which subsequently had to be thrown out. Use some common sense here!
But even with a food saver, leftovers can be discouraging. If you bake lasagna, eat your portion—or maybe three portions in a week—that’s still a freezer full of lasagna. So save the lasagna for when the kids come home—or go to the best Italian restaurant you know.
When you cook for yourself, you have to get rid of some long-held notions. One is that “Waste not, want not” dictum that sings like a refrain in our heads. When you cook for one, you’re going to waste some food—just pitch it with a clear conscience. It’s not waste on the scale that you’d waste food if you cooked for a family of six and had unusable leftovers. Reconcile yourself to both discarding some food and eating the same thing two nights in a row. (If it’s good, that shouldn’t be a problem.)
A lot of recipes can be reduced to serve two, but it’s sometimes hard to reduce them to a single serving. So eat salmon burgers or some other delicacy two nights in a row if you don’t want to freeze the other burger.
The other caveat is that you have to learn to shop at a grocery that has a good butcher. I bet you don’t buy meat or fish from the butcher because it’s more expensive. But you’re only cooking for one! It’s not that much more expensive. It’s better to ask the butcher for one chicken breast than to buy four in a package and have those leftovers. Or use chicken cutlets or tenders instead of a package of breasts. I’ve been told that the chicken in those pre-packs of four has already been frozen and defrosted; if you take it home and freeze it, you’re freezing chicken that is already on its way to getting old.
Want salmon? Buy a one-serving piece.
Some random ideas:
■ Toss cooked tiny pasta with Parmesan, pepper, and a little heavy cream. Add a little chopped parsley for color (even the dried kind).
■ Ask the butcher for one or two small lamb chops (if you like lamb) or one pork chop.
■ Make an individual pizza, using a flour tortilla as the crust. Top with whatever you want. One I like: spread pesto over the tortilla and top with roasted veggies and goat cheese. Or try a topping of creamed spinach, artichoke hearts, chopped Roma tomatoes, and Parmesan. Invent your own! Bake at 400ยบ, but watch closely so the tortilla doesn’t burn.
■ Buy those frozen hash browns that can be resealed. Then if you have leftover turkey, for instance, you can make turkey hash. Use bottled or dehydrated turkey gravy to bind together and spice it up with a little garlic powder, Worcestershire, onion, etc.
■ Buy sliced turkey in the deli and put it on toast. Cover with cheese sauce or Alfredo sauce and broil. Top with cooked bacon and a tomato slice.
■ Some things in the produce department—spinach, broccoli, beans, mushrooms—come loose, so you can buy whatever amount you want. Asparagus doesn’t, and that troubled me for a while. It’s so expensive, but it’s so good. Now I buy a pack of very fresh asparagus (did you know it should be standing in water and not lying on a shelf?) and then I eat it all week—with lemon butter, on buttered toast, chunked up in salad, or even plain.

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