stories

The subtle art of learning to feast for one

left: original artwork, right: the tea towel itself (creased, stained and used)
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I would like to say that I love cooking, but the reality is that what I really love is food.  Everything about it: the act of going to the grocery shop, the anticipation of booking a table at a restaurant, the (unnecessarily frowned-upon) act of licking a spoonful of batter that’s about to go into the oven and slowly rise into a delicious, delectable pudding. I love the idea of brunch, even perhaps more than brunch itself, and I love the little ceremony of setting up a table with all the trinkets and décor that make a meal an occasion. I love grinding my coffee beans just a much as I love sitting at a café and watching people pass by. I love food so much I made a career out of it, working countless hours in diverse areas of the hospitality sector trying to understand every single aspect that surrounds the act of preparing and consuming food. For some people eating is just the act of feeding themselves, but not for me.

I love food when I am cooking it for others, the hours spent on it just one more joyous show of my love for them and the anticipation of the meal shared. So why is it that when I am on my own - which as a person in a long-distance relationship more often than not - I find it so hard to concoct that which I love the most for myself? Suddenly the ingredients lose their appeal, the spices grow dull and the joy becomes nostalgia of shared dinners. At night as I lay in bed I think eagerly: tomorrow I will be different, I will wake up and make myself the breakfast that I dream of.  Yet, morning comes and I satisfy the hunger with the fastest meal I can muster, too unmotivated to care about it, my all-time lover once again neglected by the hardship of cooking for one. I will easily, happily set up a spread that takes me hours to make for my friends and family, yet treat my own breakfast with the discontent of someone who believes a granola bar is a meal. 

In all honesty, it is harder to cook for one on many levels. Recipes are seldom scaled for one portion and ingredients are sold in amounts unsuitable for one, more often than not becoming forgotten leftovers or rotting before I have a chance to get to them. Sure, there are apps, recipes, blogs, for other lonely people like me. One-person households have become more common; increasing by 4% in the past ten years, meaning the past year was excruciatingly lonely for many of us.  We are alone in this together, that 4% and me, and while some people cope with it a lot better than I do, I realise that what they don’t sell on any website is motivation, a key ingredient in any dish worthy of feasting. 

The problem I find is that most of the time the effort seems bigger than the reward when the satisfaction of the meal won't be shared. When it is devoid of the stolen glances and the wine-fuelled conversations. Feasting is an act of love, something we do around others to celebrate the joy of sharing a moment. In my quest to rediscover how to feast for one I’ve learned a few lessons. First and foremost is that as cliché as it may sound, learning to feast on my own was learning to love myself a bit more. It means to say: Yes, I will spend the time and effort to set up the table and light up that candle, fill up that glass and cook up that dish if only for the sake of reconnecting with my love of food for a few minutes.  It also means sometimes indulging in a takeaway and not feeling guilt over not cooking because I love myself enough to not do the dishes after an exhausting day. I’ve learned to love the shortcuts that my snobbish food education once made me frown upon and have begrudgingly accepted that ready-meals can always be a starting point to something greater. I have learned that leftovers can be transformed magically into a completely different meal if I care just a little bit more about my meal than just eating for the sake of it. That freezing cookie dough and baking the one single cookie as a treat to myself is worth the effort and that a comforting and satisfying bowl of spaghetti carbonara with an equally cheesy movie in the background is as much of a feast as a spread set up for ten people.  I have always loved food because of what it has allowed me to share with others, now I am learning to love it because of what it is making me discover about myself.