I'm like a social drinker, but for food
I love going to the grocery store and wandering around, inhaling the scent of basil, strawberries, coffee. I love the vineripe tomatoes that smell sweet and dusty, like the ones my grandfather used to grow in his greenhouse, and the heirloom tomatoes that look as though they've landed from another planet, imperfect, bulging, exuberant (though frankly none compares to the plants we treated like neglected stepchildren this summer, but which nevertheless rewarded us with handfuls of intensely flavored cherry tomatoes).
We usually plan the week's meals while we shop, figuring out how many nights we'll be home, scoping out chicken and lamb and steelhead trout and scallops. Sometimes meals are decided based on what's available: if there's flank steak, it will be grilled and served with rice and beans and chimichurri. If there are pork chops, they'll be pan-fried and finished with a shallot-pomegranate reduction. Other times, we'll realize it's been a while since we had, say, ratatouille or black lentil curry or risotto, so that drives our decisions.
Tonight, for example, it's osso bucco, because the veal shanks looked good.
I love to cook, but because The Boy usually gets home from work before I do, he has taken over most of the kitchen duties. I don't mind too much, and it's admittedly nice to come home to find garlic frying in olive oil, or haddock bubbling in a pan of white wine and tomatoes, or lamb skewers, perfumed with ras-el-hanout, waiting to go on the grill.
On weekends, if we don't eat out, we often cook together. And I might also make something we can quickly heat up later in the week: a chicken stew, or a carrot-ginger soup, or a lasagne.
But one thing I've realized: if I'm by myself, I have very little interest in spending much more time in the kitchen than it takes to boil the kettle for tea and pour cereal in a bowl. It's not that I'm lazy; I just don't feel the need to do more if I'm the only one eating.
I think there are two types of food consumption: for wont of anything better, I'll call them refueling and relating.
Refueling is when you throw together a cheese and ham sandwich, or you grab a burrito or a protein smoothie during your lunch hour, because you don't have time to stop, and anyway you're by yourself, and you just need the energy to get you through until the next meal. The food might still taste good, but that's not the primary motive. The main goal is to top up the tank.
Relating is when food becomes part of something larger. To me, eating is a social activity. It's a way of connecting with other people, finding common ground. It's about sharing in the experience of satisfying a basic human need, while at the same time acknowledging the sensory aspects--aroma, texture, taste--unnecessary for mere survival.
So if I have no-one to eat with, I go into refueling mode. For instance, I was on my own for a few days this week because The Boy was at a conference in San Francisco. Each night, when I came home from work, I'd nibble on whatever I could forage from the fridge.
Luckily, we'd had friends over a couple of days before, so there was a good selection of party leftovers: Spanish goat's-milk cheese, olives, prosciutto, boquerones, grapes, rosemary crackers. So it's not as though I was suffering.
But had the selection been less civilized, I'd have happily survived on yogurt and bananas and toast.
Maybe it's a good thing I've never lived on my own.