Cooking for One

8

June 14, 2015 by Jean

Lewiston Farmers' Market, MEFor me, one of the joys of retirement is having time to cook.  I know many single people who dislike cooking for one and only do serious cooking for company. But I enjoy the experience of preparing and savoring a meal just for me. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not always in the mood for cooking. Typically, I’ll make 2-4 dishes in a week, each with 2-3 servings, and eat the leftovers on those evenings when I get home late from an outing or when I’ve been out working in the garden and come in too tired to cook.

I am not a gourmet cook who makes fancy dishes with a large number of exotic ingredients and complex instructions. My preference is for simple cooking with good, whole, local ingredients. (One of my favorite cookbooks is Nava Atlas’s The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet, a treasure trove of delicious but simple recipes.)

I plan my meals one week at a time, and then do my grocery shopping based on those meals. In any given week, my planned meals will include some combination of the following: repeat dishes that I enjoy, something I’ve never made before, and variations on standard themes like pizza, frittata, pasta and sauce, stir fry, or quesadillas.

At this time of year, my meal planning begins with a visit to the Sunday farmers’ market in the nearby city of Lewiston, Maine, where the best, freshest local produce can be found. I have a CSA membership for one of the farms that sells at this farmers’ market, so I stop at that booth first. I pick up whatever they have that appeals to me and then supplement with items from other farmers.

For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, CSA stands for “Community Supported Agriculture.” CSA members invest in a farm and then get paid back in produce during the growing season; this makes it possible for farmers to support their up-front expenses for a new farming season with funds from their customers rather than loans from a bank. In some CSAs, members go to the farm or to a pick-up point on a designated day each week and get a box or bag of what is being harvested in that particular week. In other CSAs, members are paid back in credits to spend at the farmer’s booth at the farmers’ market. This latter is the type of CSA I currently belong to. Each membership share costs $150 and is paid back in credit with 10% interest (a much better deal than I can get investing my money elsewhere!). This year, I bought 2 shares for a total of $300, giving me $330 in credit to spend at the farmers’ market booth and at some other points of sale for this farm. (If you would like to find a CSA near you, go to LocalHarvest.org and type in your zip code.)

Once I have picked up my produce from the farmers’ market, I can figure out what I want to make with that produce and make a grocery list that includes any needed ingredients. Last week, for example, I picked up four items from my CSA: a head of lettuce and a bag of mixed salad greens (for my daily lunch salads), a bunch of tiny beets with greens attached, and a bag of baby kale. It was also “Seniors Day” at the farmers market, where anyone over 62 could get a coupon worth $2 at any booth. I used this to help pay for a 4 oz. bag of chanterelles from a mushroom farm. The chanterelles were sautéed in butter, cooked with the beet greens, and mixed with beaten eggs to make a delicious frittata. The kale was cooked with chickpeas, olives, garlic and tomato sauce and served over pasta. The beets were saved to be cooked with some other root vegetables for a stir fry.

For the next 2-3 months, there will be more and more goodies available at the farmers’ market each week. Today brought the first of this year’s fresh local strawberries, which has me thinking about strawberry shortcake as well as healthful breakfasts of strawberries, yogurt and cereal. It’s a wonderful time of year to eat and to cook – for one or for more.

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8 thoughts on “Cooking for One

  1. Jean R. says:

    I’ve never heard of the CSA concept but from your link i found out there are several in my area including at a market I go to often that’s only 5 miles away, Interesting concept! My biggest problem when going to the farmer’s market is I buy more than one person can actually use. Oh well, there are worse things in the world than buying too many fruits and veggies. I’ve learned that freezing strawberries mashed and ready for shortcake works extremely well. I’m going to try it with peaches this summer, too.

    Sounds like you cook more than I do and it’s great that you enjoy it.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, I love belonging to a CSA. When I belonged to a CSA that gave me whatever is being harvested that week, it forced me to be a more adventurous eater — but I also wasted food. (Can a single person really use 10 cucumbers in one week?) This is my third year in the CSA that gives me credit at the farmers’ market, and it has worked out well for me. In the first two years, I only got one share, which barely lasted me through the summer. This year, I decided it made sense to get two shares, especially since this farm continues to market produce through the winter, and they are also the source of my farm-fresh holiday turkey.

  2. Diana Studer says:

    Even cooking for two (I’m a lazy cook), life is easier if I can prepare today’s meal with one for later.

  3. Stacy Moore says:

    Ooh — the Nava Atlas cookbook looks wonderful! Thank you for suggesting it. I tend to approach cooking for one like you do and enjoy it as long as it isn’t too labor-intensive. I envy you your local strawberries. They’re not exactly a New Mexico specialty. Oh, well. Chile season begins in another month or so, so I won’t repine.

    • Jean says:

      Stacy, I actually have two Nava Atlas cookbooks — but this is the one I use the most. I can see why strawberries might not do well in New Mexico — since they need moisture while they are developing. I’m still waiting on my little wild strawberries, which are tiny but packed with flavor.

  4. I love to cook as well and you know I grow my own veggies….it is amazing what flavor a salad has when it is fresh picked from your garden or fresh picked from a market…I try to make extra and ahead but my husband is a bit different preferring to go to the store a few times a week…I must take the reins and make more definitive menus….I love trying new dishes too especially with the fresh herbs growing now.

    • Jean says:

      Donna, The only food I grow is herbs and volunteer wild berries. But I love being able to pop out the door and pick a half-cup of wild strawberries for my breakfast cereal or snip some chives to go in the lunch salad.

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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