One of the biggest challenges when you live alone is preparing meals for one, especially when you were part of a family of five, with husband and three children for most of your adult life. After my marriage ended I literally didn’t know how to cook or what to eat. I made big pots of things like there were still five people going to sit at the dinner table and then I just kind of gawked at it wondering what in the world I was going to DO with all of it. And then you eat it until you get sick of it, and finally you throw the rest out.
The next thing that happens is that you can end up eating all of your meals in front of the tv or the computer and you don’t even remember what you ate. And it’s easy to get quick fix meals that aren’t fresh or healthy just because its’s easy, and for a lot of years it needed to be cheap!
Finally I got to the place where I just didn’t cook at all, what I ate went in the microwave, but finally the day came when I craved real food. But still there was just me, and a budget, and wanting to make things simple and healthy. And one of my favorite things to do is to cook with fresh herbs from my garden. My whole large deck just outside my studio door is full of pots everywhere with all kinds of herbs. Some can winter over outside but I am about to have some inexpensive grow-lights put in the studio so I can bring the tender ones in. Basil, and others, will grow all winter with good light.
So today I made one of my favorite dishes of all. And moving through the preparation mindfully is pure pleasure. Scrambled eggs with basil, and the eggs are French cooked scrambled eggs which are very soft and creamy.
I get the pan heating and put a bit of butter in, and as it is warming up I go out with the scissors and cut off a few sprigs of basil. Mmmm, it smells so good.
I turn the heat down and pick the skillet up and roll the butter around as it melts, kind of breathing with it for a moment and moving in a circular fashion (think slow hula hooping without the hula hoop!) kind of laughing with the rolling of the of the butter across the pan. (By this point the pugs are rolling their eyes. I can just hear them thinking, “Lordy, there she goes again!”)
I love washing the basil because it smells so good, and I pick the leaves off the stems and toss them in the skillet and sautée them in the butter. Heavens, the whole kitchen smells divine.
French cooked scrambled eggs are so good and I’d never heard of them until one day a few years back watching Jacques Pepin and Julia Child doing their cooking show together — oh I do miss Julia, and they were great together — and they were making simple egg dishes and talked about cooking eggs the way the French do. It has become a favorite of mine and is a very meditative thing to do because it’s a much slower process.
So getting back to the basil I sautée it and the butter and the basil just sort of melt into one another and then the eggs go in. I whisk the eggs and put a splash of organic milk in which is just my preference, and a dash of salt and pepper, and pour it into the skillet. Then the process really begins.
The eggs must be cooked very slowly, heat turned down, and the spatula keeps moving, gently stirring them around. You want them to be very soft and creamy and not to cook and become dry in any spot so I just stand there gently stirring and there is a sense of being all of a piece. The pan, the butter, the basil, the eggs, the milk, the salt. the pepper, the spatula, my hand, up my arm, my shoulder, my neck, all the way up to the top of my head. There is an energy that moves back down the other direction and up and down and the eggs go round and round and finally they are finished. I lift them gently onto the plate and they are just so pretty.
These eggs are wonderful for breakfast or lunch, with coffee or tea, and really lovely to have of an evening with a nice glass of chilled white wine. It is such a simple meal, easy to make, doesn’t take long, not complicated with a lot of ingredients or a big clean up but such a lovely meal.
The friend that taught me about using the basil was visiting once years ago and she cooked breakfast and oh it was divine. In addition to the basil she grated some smoked gouda into the eggs just at the end allowing just a brief few moments to let it start to melt before dishing them up. I had never really cared for smoked gouda but just a little grated in with the basil and the eggs was really good. And you can add all different kinds of cheese. I don’t eat a lot of cheese these days and think it is just lovely with the basil and the eggs, and the basil adds a lovely bit of green that makes the eggs special.
You can use other herbs and the cheeses if you like. Sometimes I grill gluten free bread with olive oil and then just a bit of butter on it and wow is that good! Grilled toast is so much better than in the toaster!
On the weekends I have begun cooking something in the crock pot so that I have good meals during the week. I work long hours, get a late start in the day and then work pretty late at night and it’s easy to get caught up at the last minute and then be floundering about not knowing what to eat. I am now making some type of soup or stew in the crockpot usually on Saturday and I love clearing off the counter and filling it with all manner of vegetables to clean and chop. A good olive oil, slicing and chopping a sweet onion, then fresh garlic, carrots — you get into a rhythm — washing and cutting the bottom off of brussel sprouts and putting them in. Brussel sprouts are wonderful cooked in a stew slowly in the crockpot because they become very soft and flavorful. I use lots of fresh herbs and spices and the whole cottage smells wonderful all day while it’s cooking. Potatoes, turnips, and later mushrooms — they don’t need to cook so long because they are soft — and I keep adding for a couple of hours this and that. Sitting down to eat a meal when you have slowly and thoughtfully prepared the vegetables makes it a very special meal indeed, and when I have a friend join me for dinner on a Saturday night that is doubly nice.
It’s amazing how just taking the time to cook and eat real food, fresh foods, homecooked and sometimes old fashioned meals makes you feel so good, not just eating something good but there is a feeling in the home when you have mindfully prepared a meal, and when it feeds you through the week there is a special satisfaction.
I am trying to eat mainly gluten free so I came up with a simple dessert that is so good. My daughter Rachel who comes over on Monday nights (Tonight we started watching Downton Abbey! Fun!) loved this when I made it for us last week and she took some home and my 9 year old grandson loved it too.
I take a bag of apples, and use most of them. Wash them, cut them in quarters, and then cut out the core. I like big pieces. Fill a big crock or casserole that you can cover. I have the big blocks of butter and I put a few slices over the apples on top, and then — and this is interesting — normally I would use cinnamon, but recently I went to make it, and the apples were all cut up and the butter was in and there was no cinnamon. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know what to do, and then I looked up and spotted the powdered ginger. I thought, well, gee, I’ll give it a go, and sprinkled the ginger in fairly liberally. It was fabulous! I have found that it needs something else to sweeten it a little. I use truvia, the stevia that looks like sugar and it is really potent so you don’t need a lot. Then cover and cook. It takes about 20 minutes in the microwave or you can bake it in the oven. The butter melts together with the apples and the spices and gracious it smells good. I serve it when warm with a big dollop of Greek yogurt on top. I swear you don’t miss the crust and Rachel said last week it was so good it was like apple pie and ice cream! Even better!
What I love is that this is good as a dessert and also good for breakfast, especially with the yogurt. Or if you make oatmeal you can warm some of the apples to put on top. So easy.
So I have found that taking time to cook, really being awake and aware every step along the way, even with the simplest of meals, that mindful engagement, really makes the meal special, and now I’m hooked on cooking again. Real food, for one, or for family and friends. It’s becoming an adventure, making meals, paying attention, and remembering what I ate later instead of trying to remember if I ate at all!
I would love to hear from you about good simple recipes that you enjoy. Do leave them in the comments after this post if you’d like. And as Julia would say… Bon Appétit!