A few years ago Deborah Madison wrote a book called What We Eat When We Eat Alone, all about the things people consume when no one is watching. I haven’t read this book, but thumbed through it at length and read some great reviews — and the concept really stuck with me. I have always loved to eat out alone, but eating alone at home is something of a chore. Doing dishes for one just doesn’t always seem worth it. I guess I should have been more self conscious of my solo eating habits when Dan moved in, but I was used to doing things my way, and I had to go to bed at 8pm most nights to accommodate my crazy schedule anyway. Cold cereal and High Life dominated the pantry. Not exactly what most people think of when they think “Chef.”
When I met my future husband I was working as a baker and chef, and catering on the side. I lived alone, downtown, in a great old apartment in a sketchy neighborhood, and I was very set in my ways. I hear this happens when you make it into your 30s solo — somewhere along the line the obstinate old coot gene kicks in. I was cooking my heart out all day long, riding my bike to work for a 3am baking shift, and eating most of my meals at the restaurant. My house contained raisin bran (Post only, always Post) and microwave popcorn. Sometimes I bought bananas to put in the cereal. I lived off that for a couple of years. If I just had to have something else, I was more likely to go out for it than to make it myself.
Eating well alone is a luxury. Dan is not someone who can eat out by himself. He will order something to go and then sit in his car in the parking lot. I will happily pick a great spot for reading or watching and proceed to order a couple of courses of comfort food, hopefully pleased enough to clean my plates and order dessert. I am married to a guy who likes to eat out, but prefers sub shops to restaurants, and doesn’t like to draw attention to himself (which invariably happens with a toddler as loud and adorable as ours). We don’t get to go out that much, so that means lots of cooking at home, and that means making food that satisfies all three of us. Fortunately HoneyBea will try to eat just about anything you set in front of her – she’s just limited by a lack of molars.
So now I’m cooking for other people again, but something has changed. I also cook for myself. If Dan is working nights, I might make boxed mac and cheese for Bea, but something special just for me. A favorite of mine for a long time has been “Salad Over Medium,” and that’s what I had tonight.
This really comes together nicely when you have super fresh ingredients (like most salads), but tonight was kind of ridiculously fresh. I harvested the asparagus about 15 minutes before it went into the pan and the hens are laying 6 or 7 eggs a day. These were gathered yesterday. The key ingredients are the lettuce, the eggs and the dressing, but this being spring, asparagus that only traveled 100 feet from field to plate is a perfect addition. A great perk is that if you use your plate for a cutting board, you only dirty one knife, one pan, one plate, one fork, one jar and a spatula. This cleans up super fast!
A word: I love undercooked eggs. Love em. Not everyone does, and that’s okay, but this dish really isn’t for them. It’s also not for pregnant women. And I can’t stress enough that it’s really nice to know your chickens.
Salad Over Medium
Crack Dressing (recipe below)
Pile the greens on the plate, buttercrunch or baby greens are especially tasty. Prepare your dressing and set aside. Decorate salad with cheese and walnuts (any mild cheese and tree nut will do, but if you can get Goat Lady Dairy products, I highly recommend the Sandy Creek). Wash and prep your asparagus. Fry up your eggs in butter, being careful not to overdo them,because that runny yolk is integral to the flavor of the salad. Transfer your eggs to the top of the salad, and while the pan is still hot, quickly saute the asparagus. Toss those on top of everything else and drizzle with dressing. Eat eat eat and sop up the last of the yolk and dressing with some good crusty bread. This is better with a good lager or ale than wine.
In my 20s I worked in museums, earning next to nothing, just like all my friends. Fortunately we were resourceful, social, and pretty good cooks. The nightly Pauper Supper Club was born. We each brought what we had, and instead of each person sitting alone eating one sad thing, we were a happy (and often intoxicated) group eating a buffet. Necessity breeds creativity and we learned to make do with what we had, but one thing we almost always had was a green salad with this dressing. It was given this name by one of the Paupers who had just finished her third bowl of salad and was slurping the last of the dressing straight from the bowl. I never bothered to make an actual recipe for it, but it goes something like this:
1 part olive oil
1 part balsamic vinegar
1/4 part molasses
finely minced garlic to taste (powder will do if you’re lazy like me lately)
pinch of salt
a few grinds of pepper
Put it all in a jar and shake well. Get ready to sop!