When most little girls dream about getting married, the wedding reception is probably the first thing on their minds. The dress, the cake, the flowers.
I never fantasized about the wedding dress or cake. Instead, I imagined marriage in terms of the meals we'd cook together, the food traditions we’d share.
The side by side chopping and tasting and discovering new recipes and regions and culinary delights.
The man I married, however, did not want to join me on a food journey. My dream of dual food prep never came to light. Instead, I wound up cooking for him the things he already knew he liked. I was often on my own, defrosting and frying the high-fat comfort foods he preferred.
All this “comfort food,” and the lifestyle it implied, made me very uncomfortable in my own skin. When we split, one of my first thoughts was about my old dream of food discovery: it was time to take back my food identity! I didn’t need another person to expand my culinary horizons, I realized. I could do it on my own, and never feel compelled to boil and fry and dish out once-frozen meat cigars again.
Great, ambitious thought. Harder-to-execute reality. Cooking for one is different than cooking for one plus a ravenous partner. How to buy groceries for one? How to make a recipe for four work for one, unless I wanted to be eating the same thing for a week? How to enjoy the dish I was concocting if I had no one to share it with?
For me food was always a communal event, and now I would have to learn to commune with myself.
I wasn’t even sure I remembered what I liked, or would know what to buy at the grocery store with no one else in mind. But I was going to find out.
I began to look into recipes and gather ideas from friends. You can create a new food identity on your own, I discovered, and the benefits are more than a meal. Cooking creates a sense of home. It can help us feel centered in our own space, and powerful in the act of caring for another. These truths apply when it comes to caring for oneself, too.
One night, newly single, I opened a beautiful cookbook I had yet to use, called “Jerusalem.” I picked out a butternut squash recipe that looked hearty and simple. I drove myself to the grocery store to slowly select all of the ingredients. I took my time, something no partner ever had the patience to let me do. I compared prices and debated over brands of tahini, no spouse rushing me to get home to watch a movie, or move more quickly because he was hungry now. I changed my mind, went back, switched ingredients.
Finally satisfied with my squash and herbs and spices, I came home and unpacked. That’s when I realized I would need to chop this puppy. My knives were not nearly sharp enough for the tough rind of squash. But I wasn’t going to let dull knives stop me now. I put the squash on my kitchen table instead of up on the counter, rolled up my sleeves, and used leverage to my advantage.
Through much upper body effort, teeth clenching, sweating, cursing, and pleading, I got that squash chopped. I made a note to myself to sharpen my knives, or invest in new ones. But it was done. I had done it.
I didn’t have anyone to help me and I didn’t have anyone to rush me. I was capable. Though this basic culinary task took an hour, I felt great.
After the squash cooked, I dished myself a nice-sized portion and sat proudly at my kitchen table. It was 11pm, a late hour for dinner that might have upset a partner. But it was just fine with me. The squash was creamy with tahini and full of flavor and spices. Just the right texture, the inside soft, the outside slightly crisp. It was hearty and fulfilling, but not heavy or oily, as so many of the foods of my marriage had been. I felt like it gave me energy, the work I’d put into it returning to me doubly. I didn’t need a glass of wine with dinner to “take the edge off.” I didn’t feel any edge.
My marriage had been laden in meat and oil, but now I could cook as healthily as I liked. Such as Brussels sprouts. My husband had complained about the smell of certain vegetables, preferring the scent of grilled meat. But alone, I could stink up the house. Sometimes, when I felt unsure what to cook, I’d ask myself what would he want least. This actually provided something of a compass, at least at first. Smelly, hearty vegetable dishes always topped my list. Rather than picking typical comfort foods, I realized that healthiness comforted me.
It was an ongoing struggle to learn to love solo cooking, just as it was a struggle to reclaim so many aspects of my identity after divorce. But every mistake felt like a sign: I was growing stronger.
I eventually learned to roast squash slightly before attempting to cut it. I also had to accept that it is virtually impossible to shop for one, and almost no recipe really creates a single serving. I could do the division, cutting a meal for four into quarters, but cooking enough for the week makes me feel nourished and somehow “well-stocked” for life. I can take extra portions to work for lunch, or look forward to devouring the comforting concoction at the end of the day. Even more appealing is giving away extras by inviting guests. I can entertain on my own, too, I realized. Cooking meals that could feed a family gives me reason to host. I have come to love making food I’m proud of and happy to share, and I find nourishing others is the most nurturing feeling of all.
I occasionally remind myself that I’ll need to maintain more of myself next time, when I meet someone again. Hopefully, we’ll cook together this time. But I’ll still cook for myself as well. I’ll be roasting the Brussels sprouts, chopping the squash and using food as an invitation for connection, comfort and health.
Daliya Karnofsky is the host and creator of the YouTube and live baking/love advice show, “And She Bakes.” She is also the creator and host of the live comedy show/dating app “All My Single Friends.” Daliya got it out of the way early and was married and divorced by age twenty-four.