September 6, 2006
the trend toward takeout,
some who eat solo still cook for themselves
By L. Joan Allen
freezes his leftover homemade pesto in ice-cube trays. Maria
Serafini makes her signature turkey chili, then spoons leftovers
over greens to make a taco salad. Janet Weber has a go-to, quick
Thai red curry to serve with rice.
These local cooks have different approaches to a common problem -
making food just for themselves. By cooking at all, they're swimming
against the tide of long working hours and increasingly available
single-portion convenience food that makes it less likely than ever
for singles to make a meal from scratch.
Recent studies suggest that singles who cook on a regular basis are
Singles who live alone make up nearly 27 percent of American
households, up from 13 percent in 1960, says Thomas F. Coleman,
executive director of Unmarried America, an information service for
singles. That means about 30 million Americans are living - and
often eating - alone, he says.
Most are not slaving over a hot stove, says Claudia Peters, vice
president of communications at the Food Marketing Institute. She
reports that 67 percent of adults living alone have a home-cooked
meal just once a week.
Take Shana Bender, 30, a never-married acupuncturist living in
Catonsville. When she runs out of groceries and doesn't feel like
shopping, Bender says, "I'll go out to eat a lot, mostly to
fast-food restaurants like McDonald's, because it's cheap and easy
and there are so many everywhere."
Instead of cooking for her dates, Bender prefers it the other way
"When I was dating a guy, he would cook all the time," she says. "We
broke up in February, and now I go to my sister Merrill's. She's the
one who does the cooking."
In spite of the statistics, there are singles who cook for
themselves because they want to know what they are eating and have
more control over the ingredients. A 2005 study by the Mintel
International Group, which monitors trends in the food world, found
that concerns over the nation's high rate of obesity and diabetes
were nudging some older single cooks back into the kitchen.
"Armed with the skills to cook and with concerns over health and
diet, baby boomers, now aged 40 to 58 ... will gravitate to foods
that are better for them, such as organics," the study says.
That's why Weber, 51, a divorced account supervisor at GKV
Communications in Baltimore, has been cooking for herself about
three times a week. "I want to have foods that are fresh and
healthier," she says.
When it's hot outside, Weber, who lives in
Federal Hill, likes to go out for lighter meals such as a fresh
salad. But in colder weather, the Thai red curry, which can take on
shrimp to make a heartier meal, comes together quickly.
"Another reason I cook for myself is so I'll have leftovers during
the day, enough extra for lunch," Weber says. "I get tired of eating
the same things from the same places. ... Bringing lunch gives me a
Serafini, 35, a divorced Baltimore native who lives in Carney, says
preparing healthful foods is high on her list. "I know what the
contents and ingredients are and I can control what I cook from a
health perspective," she says. "For example, I use olive oil and
butter instead of hydrogenated oils. I'm really against them."
Serafini, an employee of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security,
says another reason for fixing meals at home every day is financial.
She'll pop a Lean Cuisine spa meal in the microwave, open a can of
tuna or broil a ground turkey patty and pair it with a fresh steamed
vegetable to avoid paying for higher-priced takeout food.
Serafini says usually she fires up the oven or range three or four
times a week, preparing one-pot meals that are easy to clean up,
like beans and rice, baked chicken with olive oil and Sylvia's
soul-food spices or her favorite, ground turkey chili.
"That's versatile," she says. "I can throw the chili on top of a bed
of crisp lettuce and turn it into a taco salad, and steam a bag of
spinach as a side dish."
Carol Sorgen, a 57-year-old divorced journalist, says she actually
knows how to cook well but often doesn't because she'd rather do
something else with free time. "I work so much - 70 hours a week -
that it's just disruptive to stop at a certain point and prepare a
meal," she says. "There are other things I'd rather do, such as read
a book, catch up with friends on the phone or go out."
The Pikesville resident relies heavily on carryout for her meals,
but still tries to make healthful choices. "I pick up mostly grilled
or poached salmon and a salad or penne pasta and roasted vegetables
from various rounds of gourmet takeouts." Sorgen says she does sneak
in a hamburger from a fast-food chain at least once a week.
Like Sorgen, divorced chef Michael Wagner, 45, also works hectic
hours. Unlike Sorgen, he loves cooking for himself. "Cooking helps
me unwind," he says, though it is also his job - Wagner is chef
Anne Arundel Community College's Hospitality, Culinary Arts and
Tourism Institute and executive partner of Aida Bistro in Columbia,
where he works weekends.
"I'm not a big fan of fast food; I have high standards when it comes
to what I'm eating," says Wagner, who lives in Marriottsville. "And
I'm trying to eat healthier after a long day of work." On the summer
nights Wagner isn't working in his restaurant, he throws seafood,
fish, vegetables, ribs, burgers or steaks on the grill.
Sometimes Wagner enjoys preparing a rustic and hearty squid-ink or
saffron pasta, which he eats with a salad. He tops the pasta with a
simple marinara sauce or pesto sauce.
His pesto recipe makes about six servings, but he doesn't let the
leftovers go to waste. He freezes individual portions in an ice-cube
tray (covered with plastic wrap), so they're ready for his next
quick, homemade meal.
I'm a single cook myself, and recently I picked up a yellowed copy
of Helen Gurley Brown's Single Girl's Cookbook (1969) at a flea
market. I turned to a page where she tells single women, "You
shouldn't cook for a man every night, or every other night or maybe
even once a week until you're engaged."
I'm not sure which surprised me more: that single women once cooked
every night or that there was a recipe for snagging a husband. But I
do know that I deserve to make a treat for myself every now and
Homemade desserts can be a real rarity for singles, but my Presto
Peach Soup fills the bill, either as a first course or finale. And
it's great if you want to impress a date.
Tips for singles
Here are some tips for cooking for one from digsmagazine.com., which
calls itself a "home + living guide for the post-college,
pre-parenthood, quasi-adult generation":
• If you're making the full recipe of a more involved dish, divide up
the portions immediately, then freeze all but one. (Otherwise, you'll
probably end up eating much more than you should.)
• Recycle leftovers in burritos, sandwich roll-ups, fried rice,
frittatas and omelets.
• To keep produce from going bad, buy frozen veggies in plastic bags or
freeze your own vegetables and fruit. Freeze unused bread or rolls as
soon as you bring them home.
• Use the salad bar at your local deli whenever you need a small amount
of fresh vegetables for a recipe.
• Keep healthful, no-prep snacks on hand, such as pita bread, cottage
cheese, raw carrots, yogurt and hummus.
• If you enjoy cooking but don't like eating alone, invite some friends
over on a Sunday afternoon and prepare recipes together. Put one person
in charge of groceries for each recipe. Use leftovers for the next day's
• Want to meet new people? Throw a networking party with a theme, like
Fall Harvest Fete. Ask single friends to bring an available "just
friend" of the opposite sex and a dish containing foods with that theme,
such as pumpkin pie.
[L. Joan Allen]
Makes 1 1/2 cups or six 2-ounce servings
2 ounces toasted pine nuts (toast lightly in skillet on low heat)
2 to 4 garlic cloves
1/2 pound fresh basil leaves
1/2 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
2 ounces good-quality extra virgin olive oil
1 ounce parmesan cheese
1 ounce Romano cheese
whole toasted pine nuts (garnish)
Put 2 ounces pine nuts through food processor till finely chopped, about
30 seconds. Add garlic and pulse 30 seconds. Process until paste forms.
Add basil and pepper.
Drizzle in oil slowly while processor is running for about 2 minutes and
forms a homogenous mixture. Add cheeses and process another 30 seconds.
Serve at room temperature over hot pasta. Garnish with toasted pine
Per serving: 202 calories, 6 grams protein, 19 grams fat, 4 grams
saturated fat, 4 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 9 milligrams
cholesterol, 159 milligrams sodium
Courtesy of Michael Wagner
Curry with Vegetables
Serves 4 to 6
two 14-ounce cans of coconut milk (or light coconut milk)
1 tablespoon Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste
4 tablespoons fish sauce
1/2 cup vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 cup each of 3 to 4 vegetables, such as zucchini, sugar snap peas,
mushrooms, red peppers, broccoli or bamboo shoots
raw shrimp (optional)
Bring coconut milk, curry paste, fish sauce and vegetable stock to a
boil. Simmer 10 minutes. Add vegetables and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes.
If you like, add raw shrimp and cook till shrimp is cooked through.
Serve over rice.
Per serving (based on 6 servings, without shrimp or rice): 276 calories,
4 grams protein, 28 grams fat, 25 grams saturated fat, 6 grams
carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 1,118 milligrams
Courtesy of Janet Weber
3 tablespoons half-and-half (can substitute fat-free)
2 tablespoons maple syrup (can substitute sugar-free)
1 tablespoon powdered sugar (optional, to taste)
fresh mint for garnish
Peel peaches, remove pits and quarter. Put peaches into food processor.
Add remaining ingredients (except mint) and pulse until smooth. Season
to taste with powdered sugar. Pour into bowls. Add a sprig of mint for
Per serving: 219 calories, 4 grams protein, 3 grams fat, 2 grams
saturated fat, 48 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fiber, 8 milligrams
cholesterol, 11 milligrams sodium
Courtesy of L. Joan Allen