Liver Patties? We Don’t Eat Like That Anymore

When I was a newlywed in the 1970s, I picked up a copy of You Can Cook for 1 (or Even Two) by Louise Pickoff (Gramercy Publishing, 1961). I’m not sure why I bought it, seeing as how I had a husband to feed, at least in theory. He worked nights and was rarely home for dinner. His favorite meal was a beer and a loaf of rye bread slathered with mayonnaise. No wonder the marriage didn’t last.

Half a century later as I’m researching cooking for one, I remember this book. Could I possibly still have it? I do!

Oh Lord, how things have changed. Pickoff, a businesswoman who passed away in 2000 at age 87, mentions writing this book on a typewriter. As I was writing then, too. She could never have imagined this little hardback book would sell for $864 on Amazon today. I probably paid less than $5.

Inside, Louise also mentions:

  • Her standard breakfast is bacon, eggs and toast.
  • Under equipment, she says you need a can opener, and “the new electric ones are wonderful.”
  • She speaks of double boilers, electric skillets and electric ranges.
  • In her measurement chart, she defines a speck (less than 1/8 tsp.) and a pinch (1/4-1/3 tsp.).
  • To make fried chicken, dredge it in flour and cook in a cup (!) of shortening in the electric skillet. That’s exactly how my mother did it. It tasted great, but all that fat!
  • She speaks of minute steak, soup flakes, and powdered milk.
  • She uses cream in almost everything
  • She speaks of salad dressing mix. I remember we had a special bottle marked off with lines for oil, vinegar, and the seasonings that came in a packet. The best part was shaking it up and watching the ingredients swirl around like an early-day lava lamp.
  • Liver patties
  • Tongue!
  • Breaded veal cutlets
  • Canned tuna on toast with homemade white sauce—hello, home economics class.
  • Fried bananas rolled in cream, butter and cornflakes
  • Onion soup dip—sour cream and soup mix.
  • Whiskey balls made with vanilla wafers, Karo syrup, cocoa, pecans and whiskey
  • Spanish rice—add tomato sauce to boxed rice.
  • Cold meat sandwich—spread with mayonnaise, add meat, tomato slices and pickles.

I tried some of the recipes back in the day and left my reviews:

Individual Meat and Noodle Dish (ground meat, onion, bouillon cubes, noodles, ¼ c. wine): “Not too good” 9-14-78; Chicken in Cream (4 T. fat, minced onion, cream, thyme): Awful! 3-11-75; Canned tuna on toast (white sauce, cheese, spices, canned tuna): Yum! 2-2-79

There are no notations for the period after we got divorced and I truly was living alone, before I met Fred and didn’t need that cookbook anymore. Now that I’m alone again, I wonder if I should try more of these recipes. But there are more bad reviews than good, and the way we eat has changed. Some people just don’t cook anymore. Those who do avoid heavy doses of fat and sugar. Many avoid gluten, dairy, or meat. We worry about toxins coming off plastic containers and nonstick cookware.

We don’t expect to spend so much time in the kitchen, stirring homemade white sauce until it thickens, simmering meat on the stove for an hour when we can have it ready in minutes in a microwave or an Instant Pot. We can find recipes online that knock the socks off anything Louise laboriously typed back in the 60s.

But eating alone is still eating alone, and I like what she says about it: “You can wear what you want, and you can eat what you want . . . Quite often people ask me if I set my table attractively with flowers and candles. I must admit the answer is no. I live in an efficiency apartment, and I eat off the coffee table in the living room. I either put my china on a tray or a place mat. I use chip-free china, and I use silver that I have not used while cooking. In order to save on laundry, I use paper napkins. After watching the commercials on TV, doesn’t everybody? I refuse to comment on my table manners while eating alone. Just use your imagination!”

I may hate her chicken in cream, but Louise sounds like my kind of woman. I do eat at the table—unless there’s something special on TV—with Annie eating out of her bowl on the floor beside me. I get up and down a lot, serving myself from pots on the stove, fetching cookies for the dog, grabbing condiments, silverware and whatever else I forgot. And I read.

What food traditions from your past have drifted away or changed? Do you still cook the way you did in early adulthood? What food did you used to eat all the time that you don’t eat anymore for health or other reasons? For example, I grew up on baloney sandwiches on white bread with potato chips and onion soup dip, washed down with strawberry soda. I never buy any of that now. How about you?

The Joy of Eating Whatever You Want

IMG_20181025_075416678[1]Ferrari-Adler, Jenni. Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant. New York: Riverhead Books, 2007.

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant is the title of the book I just finished reading. It’s a collection of essays about eating alone. The writers describe the meals they eat at home by themselves when no one’s looking, as well as their experiences dining alone in restaurants. Many of them are excellent cooks, but when they’re on their own, they may not bother to cook at all. Picture writer Ann Patchett standing in her kitchen eating saltine crackers or Nora Ephron in bed with a bowl of mashed potatoes. On the other hand, Holly Hughes daydreams about salmon dinners eaten without her husband and three kids interrupting with complaints that they would rather have macaroni and cheese. Then there’s Laurie Colwin, who thrived on eggplant, fried or stewed, hot or cold. MFK Fisher, known for her food writing, found that her friends were reluctant to feed her because they couldn’t meet her standards, so she’d wind up at home eating a can of soup. It’s a delicious book, beautifully written, often funny in that way of bittersweet truth. It also includes recipes.

Since I lost my husband, I have thought a lot about eating alone. (See my essay “Learning to Feed Myself,” published in Voicecatcher.) To be honest, I love cooking for myself. It has its challenges. Produce sometimes rots before I can eat it all, and every time I buy salsa, it grows fur in the jar. How do I buy enough but not too much?

I usually end up eating the same entree for three or four days because it’s difficult to cook just one portion. For some people, this is a bad thing. My father, for example, doesn’t do leftovers. He will actually throw away food if his caregivers make too much. Not me. I like what I cook, and having leftovers means less work the next day. I often announce out loud to the dog and the air, “This restaurant serves great grub.”

I believe in eating three good meals a day. I would never be happy with a few crackers eaten on the run. Nor am I likely to be skinny as long as I stay healthy. My tastes run to ordinary comfort food, although I experiment occasionally. When I got divorced ages ago and moved into my own apartment, I couldn’t wait to make myself a tuna noodle casserole. Somehow over the years, the men in my life have never loved this conglomeration of canned tuna, mushroom soup, noodles, peas, Swiss cheese, and slivered almonds, but I could eat a bucket of it by myself. Add a salad, and there’s dinner.

I avoid packaged foods. I eat a lot of chicken, pork and fish. I’ll make myself a meatloaf and eat meatloaf sandwiches all week. Last night, I tried a recipe I saw on Facebook for Sausage and Apple Stuffed Acorn Squash (thanks, Wiley). I didn’t even know acorn squash was edible, but I tried it. If I failed, there was no one around to complain. But it was wonderful. I’ll be eating it for days. I served it with leftover broccoli into which I had thrown some leftover boiled potatoes, which sounds weird, but it tastes fine.

I like throwing things together. On nights when I’m out of meat, dinner might be just a big bowl of rice cooked with leftover vegetables, a handful of mixed nuts, and some cheese. I might wrap it all in a tortilla for fun. Or I might mix everything together in a salad. I can do whatever I want because I have no one else to please.

I bake for myself. Breakfast today was half a grapefruit and a big oatmeal-blackberry muffin. I have homemade peanut butter chocolate chip cookies in the cookie jar. Who does that? I do. I like my own cooking, I prefer to have control over the ingredients, and I don’t need to deprive myself just because there are no other humans on the premises.

I serve my meals on my blue and white Currier and Ives dishes at my dining room table, complete with a tablecloth and a cloth napkin. This week, I bought myself a dozen roses at the grocery store to decorate the table. Why not?

Some people hate to eat alone, but eating alone can be a treat. You can eat anything you want, however and whenever you want.

How about you? How often do you eat alone? What do you feed yourself? I’d love to read about it in the comments. And do check out this book. It’s delicious.

%d bloggers like this: