My own lessons in independent living and cooking began when I was a kid, thanks to my mom and my stepdad, Vern. My mother let me use her stand mixer to whip the cream or potatoes, and Vern taught me to make chicken-fried steak and cornmeal-coated, pan-fried catfish. Perhaps most important, I started grocery shopping for the family at age 8. That happened after my parents’ divorce, once my mother realized that although she had lost privileges to shop at the commissary, the steeply discounted grocery store on Goodfellow Air Force Base for military personnel and their dependents, her kids had not. So she made up a list, handed me cash and drove me to the store.
The first time, she worried: “Are you all right doing this, honey? I’ll be right out here if you need me.” When, an hour later, the store worker who bagged our groceries followed me outside to the car, he initially didn’t see my mother waiting for me. As she loves to tell it, he took one look at the car and said, “Don’t tell me you can drive, too.”
My mother wasn’t worried about me for long, because my enthusiasm was so obvious. I would follow her list to the letter, but I had to make choices among brands, look for cheaper substitutions and remember the all-important goal: If I finished under budget, I could pick out something just for myself.
It was the first of many little things that helped me feel comfortable many years later when I moved to a new city and an apartment all my own, especially once I learned how to shop and cook for just one rather than a family of four.
The thing to remember is this: You don’t have to resort to takeout just because you live alone. You can keep the right (delicious) foods in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer; learn to shop with an eye for ingredients that support a single cook’s lifestyle; and cook without worrying about satisfying anyone’s hankerings but your own.
After all, if you don’t feed yourself well, who will?
Smoked Trout, Green Apple and Gouda Sandwich
Cappuccino Tapioca Pudding With Cardamom Brulee
Personal Paella With Squid and Scallions