13 August 2017

Cooking for One

One good thing about teaching yourself to cook is that it is a portable skill. As long as you can get your hands on food, heat, and at least a pot, you can feed yourself anywhere. Keeping the wolf of hunger away from the door is an imperative of survival. We all should cook at least to survive. I do, sometimes. By such means, live long I might. Prosper? I lack confidence in prosperity.

Outside the cottage tonight the sea is calm. Weeks of rough surf, waterspouts, seventh waves that hit as second and even third waves have left the headland in a bedraggled state. Watered gold sunlight is casting deep shadows upon the beach debris. Clear enough and comfortable enough for a post-prandial stroll along the strand, I think. Flotsam and jetsam capture my imagination.

Time enough to amble, that is, if I can swallow what remains on the plate before me. Finishing the meal seems iffy at best. One of my favorite dishes, chorizo and eggs, getting cold on the side table by the window. Ordinarily that plate would have me in the kitchen on the run. I find its scent tiresome this night. The storms that pounded the cottage pounded something out of me. Arms like lead, a belly gone indifferent. Still, the prime directive commands me to eat. Chew. Swallow. Mechanical.

The plate and fork go in the sink. Later, I'll pump some water in, do some cleaning. For now I am content to step outside. The sand damp and cool under my feet. A breeze rests its hands on my stubbly cheeks, redolent of brine, iodine, and the death-odor of small creatures trapped in seaweed. Like pluff mud to a Lowcountry native, it is a scent that brings me somewhere closer to home. A compass to the rudder of my soul.

The beach is pocked with moguls of seaweed, foothills of sand and samphire. Nearing the tide line pebbles and fragmented shells dig into the soles of my feet. The sensation brings to mind that I should hunt for shells, sea glass, items of interest. My daughter and I, we have a hoard of found delights and curios we have collected over the years stretching back to her early days of walking with me along the rivers, creeks, and oceans I adore. A well-preserved scallop shell or dusky gem of glass is a wonder to hold in the palm of one's hand.

At the water's edge cold foam beards my toes. A quietness emanates from the surf. Unsettling, welcoming. How can this be? The storms, of course. Or was it one long storm oscillating its ferocity over what seemed like months? Either seems equally plausible. I kneel to dip my fingertips in the water, raise them to my mouth. The liquid is chill and gritty. It also tastes tired. No vitality in the brine. I imagine a vampire would say the same of my blood. Bad weather begets bad blood, whether in the veins or in the ocean.

I understand the sea in its loss. Fury and sorrow are exhaustion incarnate if they come for a protracted stay.

A lone gull flutters to the sand opposite a clump of seaweed between us. Beady eyes offer up a quizzical stare. The gull blinks. It opens its beak in a silent cry, leaving me to wonder if it had a question for me. Or an answer to a question of my own.

Tell me, friend gull, does the sea grow tired of crashing upon the shore? Turbulent, voracious, yet never sated? Does the sea lose its appetite when left to cook alone?

The synchronization of the waves with my heartbeat lead me to believe this may be true. The sea piled on the sand all the wrack which it could not bring itself to consume, left to decay under the sun. The gull has been watching me as I mumble these things to myself. It lets loose an aural shard of a shriek while launching itself into the purple sky of sundown.

The shriek rings a bell. Realization in a flash. In the rays of dusk it is no longer the belly that cannot bring itself to eat. It is a heart sated with love gone wrong that has no appetite. It is full, it cannot swallow. Not yet. This is a matter for time to decide.

I was unaware my face was buried in my hands. I peeked between the fingers, half expecting to be swept away by a rogue wave. Yet the sea remained sluggishly undulant. It was then I saw the shell before me. Buried hinge end down, the rippled edge of the scallop beckoned me forward. I tugged it gently from the sand.

The scallop shell had survived the storms intact. A smoothness upon the surface indicative of a long tumble in the sand only hinted at the recent turbulence. I traced my fingers over my face and arms wishing I could say the same. The shell I rinsed in the surf, its destination the treasure jar belonging to my daughter as a fine addition to our volumes of history.

We would share the shell when I saw her next. The vision of her delight at its muted otherworldliness would sustain me until then, I thought. Perhaps then my heart would be less full. She and I would not speak of cooking for one. Instead, we will write a story of beauty found in the calm after the storm, casting loneliness aside as it decays in light.


  1. "an aural shard of a shriek" - perfect for a gull's cry!

    When I cook for one, it is simple. A baguette with brie, an omelette, or soup from months ago, frozen until I need it. I am on the other end, though. My cooking for one is solace, peace, silence, healing the jagged edges of my brain; most of my life is filled with busy-ness and noise, sound and fury, and sitting quietly with only the drowsing cat for company is a balm.

    I envy you your easy access to the water. I miss that. These days it's at least an hour to get to someplace with waves and salty air.

    I hope that your loneliness eventually eases and the silence of eating alone is peaceful rather than difficult. *hugs*

    1. Cooking used to be an enormous source of pleasure for me. In fact, in my first round of post-divorce bachelorhood I'd go so far as to say cooking saved my sanity. A lot of meals under the belt since then, and I'm sad to say the bloom appears to be off the rose. At least for now. I have flashes of energy and spirit with cooking, so I reckon the joy is just resting, biding its time. I like to eat, and the "flow" of cooking is good for the mind and the body. The joy will be back, I'll know it when it arrives. Thank you for being here with me.


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...